Ferguson challenges critics

No prizes for guessing who Ferguson meant in his programme column when he bemoaned what he regards as exaggerated criticism "even from people we thought were perhaps on our side".

The Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, applauds the fans following his team's 4-1 victory over Wolves.
The Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, applauds the fans following his team’s 4-1 victory over Wolves.

Ferguson is never more riled than when his young players are questioned and one sensed he enjoyed making his point afterwards. "I don't understand people doubting these players. They have played for their country – [Danny] Welbeck, [Chris] Smalling, [Phil] Jones – so if they are not that good, why are England playing them?"

Ferguson, as ever, had the last word. Then the old PR skills kicked in as he thanked the supporters for their backing.

Wolverhampton Wanderers were obliging opponents, just as Chelsea discovered during their own mini-crisis two weeks earlier. Nani looked more like his old self, firing in a 20-yarder to soothe the crowd's mood and, at 2-1, turning in Antonio Valencia's cross to extinguish any hopes of a Wolves comeback. Valencia, Jones, Nani and Michael Carrick all had legitimate credentials to be recognised as the game's outstanding performer and, perhaps most importantly, Wayne Rooney's confidence ought to have been soothed by the two goals that have taken him above Tommy Taylor into United's all-time top 10 league scorers, with 113.

Old Trafford always feels like a happier place when Rooney is scoring and his second, in particular, was a classy finish. In all competitions Rooney now has 160 goals, putting him ninth in the club's history, one behind Ryan Giggs. "I thought he was outstanding," Stephen Ward, the Wolves defender, said. "I suppose his performance just shows how valuable getting that ban reduced is going to be for England in the summer."

McCarthy made the point that the first two goals, for Nani and Rooney, had a touch of fortune attached because of the way they went through a defender's legs, leaving the goalkeeper, Wayne Hennessey, unsighted. Wolves, however, were one of the more generous teams to visit Old Trafford this season and it was almost a surprise that the goals stopped after Rooney had made it 4-1 with almost a third of the match to go.

The 47th-minute header from Steven Fletcher, a clever forward whose talents deserve greater recognition, offered the visitors brief hope but the two-goal lead was restored within nine minutes and, after that, it was clear this was going to be the first exercise in improving United's state of mind. In short, Ferguson's men played as though desperate to get the 2-1 defeat to Basel out of their system.

They now embark on a run of six games that involves five teams from the bottom eight – QPR, Fulham, Wigan Athletic, Blackburn Rovers and Bolton Wanderers – while Manchester City face Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool in the same period. Ferguson talked of being close to City come the turn of the year and, citing United's greater experience, reflected "if we can do that, we'll have a great chance".

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