Sir Alex Ferguson’s reserves scraped past Wolverhampton Wanderers to reach the Carling Cup quarter-final. Javier Hernández scored a 90th minute winner as United overcame the spirited Midlanders for the second season in a row, with Park Ji-Sung and full-debutant Bébé earlier twice giving United the lead at Old Trafford.
The second period was as entertaining as the first dull, as United edged the best of five goals scored after the break. Ferguson’s side twice took the lead only for the visitors to peg the home side back, with the Reds once again careless at the back.
It almost cost United a place in the next round but with plenty of youngsters featuring Ferguson will feel positive about the Reds’ work on the night.
“It was a very open game in the second half and both teams played really well. It was a really good cup tie in the second half,” said Ferguson, who also praised United’s match-winner Hernández.
“We tend to build up heroes very quickly here but the boy is justifying the praise he’s getting at the moment.
“He’s first in and last out at training and his goal scoring is impressive.
“His touch and control of the ball is improving and his vision is improving too. That’s because the training is intense and we make sure players do improve.”
Ferguson offered a number of younger players the chance to impress, with Gabriel Obertan, Bébé and Federico Macheda spearheading United’s youthful attack. In goal 20-year-old Ben Amos made only his second start for the firs team ahead of the more experienced Tomasz Kuszczak.
Yet, the morgue-like atmosphere at Old Trafford was matched by a flat opening half, with only Macheda’s curling shot forcing a save from Wayne Hennessey in the visitors’ goal.
Indeed, Ferguson must have been disappointed with the penetration and urgency of his team save for Bébé on United’s right-flank. The £7.4 million forward showed glimpses of the pace and skill that persuaded United to spend lavishly on a player Ferguson has not previously seen in action.
But precious little else provided entertainment for the sparse – officially announced – 46,083 Old Trafford crowd. In truth far fewer appeared to turn up, with East second tier and North third completely shut on the night.
Ferguson’s side started the second period much as it finished the first, although Carrick’s long-range effort and Macheda’s curling shot at least threatened the visitors’ goal.
Park, largely disappointing during the first half, should have scored but shot straight at Hennessey when through on goal.
Bébé again looked the most progressive of United’s attacking quartet, forcing the free-kick from which Darron Gibson lashed a 30-yard effort straight at Hennessey.
Indeed, it was the Portuguese who forced the opening goal, beating Steven Mouyokolo for pace on the right before the winger’s angled shot deflected up and over Hennessey and just over the line.
If that should have been the catalyst for Ferguson’s young side to win the match, then inexperience told as Wolves’ corner was headed home by George Elokobi minutes later, with Amos failing to deal with the centre.
United almost regained the lead as Bébé centred for Macheda, who shot high on the half volley. The Italian wasted the opportunity as chances flowed in a far more entertaining second period.
United finally reclaimed the lead as Park exchanges passes with Macheda and stroked home from 15 yards. It was a rare moment of end-product from the South Korean in an otherwise horrendous season for the 29-year-old midfielder.
But United has made a habit of losing leads this season and Darron Gibson dwelt on the bal in his own half, enabling Ebankes-Blake to work an opening for right-back Kevin Foley to score through Jonny Evans legs and beyond Amos.
Twice Obertan could have given United a decisive lead with minutes to go, first failing to convert substitute Hernández’ cross and then firing over when a pass might have been the better option.
Then the winner, with Hernández starting and wonderfully finishing a flowing United move. The Mexican turned from right to left and finished past Hennessey in the final minute.
Cruel on Wolves perhaps but a mark of quality from the young Mexican.
“It was a good game all round. We did really well considering the players we played. Some of them hadn’t played in a while,” added Wes Brown.
“We thought we’d won it when we got the second goal with five or six minutes to go. Chichi got us the goal in the end. We want to win this competition for a third time.
“There were a lot of young players there and they’ve got a lot to prove for the future.”
One of those players, Hernández, has become an instant Old Trafford hero.
United – 4411 – Amos; Brown, Smalling, Evans, Fabio (Neville 74); Bebe (Hernández 81), Carrick, Gibson, Park (Morrison 90+5); Obertan; Macheda.
Wolves – 442 – Hennessey; Elokobi, Berra, Mancienne, Mouyokolo, Foley; Hunt, Jones, Jarvis (Doyle 85); Ebanks-Blake (Bent 80), Fletcher.
Attendance – 46,083
Man of the Match – Bébé
Possession: United 53% – 47% Wolves
Attempts: 17 – 15
On target: 10 – 7
Corners: 4 – 6
Fouls: 12 – 6