Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 13 December 2019

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's honeymoon period over at Manchester United as mistakes and ill discipline prove costly

United lose 2-1 at Wolverhampton Wanderers on Tuesday as Ashley Young sent off

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s good fortune wasn’t going to last forever and it deserted him on a wintry night at Molineux as his Manchester United side slipped to a third defeat in four games.

The Norwegian’s honeymoon period is over, the realisation that too many of his players are not top class again apparent.

He remains positive, enthused and he might yet save this season with a top-four finish which appeared implausible in December, but if United don’t find form soon they're going to be back near where they started when Solskjaer took over in December.

Solskjaer admitted that his team needs 15 points from their final six league games to finish in the top four.

Barcelona, United’s next opponents in an Uefa Champions League quarter final on April 10, will have had little to worry about as they witnessed another soft performance from the side who fare badly against promoted Wolves.

In their three games against United this season, Nuno Espirito Santo’s men have won two and drawn one – the latter a September game at Old Trafford when they were superior in a 1-1 result.

There was little surprise then that Molineux’s South Bank hollered ‘Can we play you every week?’ towards the away fans after Chris Smalling put the ball into his own goal after 77 minutes to give Wolves the lead.

That is when they weren’t singing about this weekend’s trip to Wembley – which came at United’s expense two weeks ago.

With United down to 10 men after Ashley Young, who had started well in central defence, was sent off for a reckless challenge on Diogo Jota after 57 minutes, it was a black night in the Black Country.

United are now officially the dirtiest team in the league with another five cards picked up in a 19-minute period.

It’s turning into an uncomfortable run and even in the game they narrowly won on Saturday against Watford, Solskjaer’s side were far from impressive.

With important matches against Barcelona, Manchester City and Chelsea this month, Solskjaer’s stars need to shine.

The manager was happy with his side’s performance “up to 75 minutes” but big names are palpably failing to deliver.

Paul Pogba, so good in the first two months under the Norwegian, was again poor as he gave the ball away too many times and argued with Romelu Lukaku.

Having made six changes from Saturday, United began promisingly, too, dominating the early exchanges and creating clear chances.

Even by the end they had 18 shots to Wolves’ four and it was from those early efforts that they were rewarded when they went ahead after 13 minutes thanks to Scott McTominay’s first senior goal, a low strike from outside the area which zipped across Patricio’s goal into the corner. Playing in a more advanced midfield role, the Scot looked effective.

Wolves, safe in seventh even with one win in their last six Premier League games, could have been forgiven for having one eye on Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final against Watford as they go in search of a first major trophy since 1980.

Instead, they played a strong line-up, but were initially out thought on a slick pitch with Diogo Dalot crossing towards Lukaku after five minutes.

The Belgian should have scored but headed the ball straight towards the excellent Rui Patricio.

Jesse Lingard spurned another fine chance as United should have been three up.

Then Fred gave the ball away after 24 minutes. That error, which came after David de Gea passed to him in space, changed the game.

The Brazilian was dispossessed and Wolves have the quality to punish such errors. Diogo Jota, a permanent nuisance at Old Trafford in September, was on hand to do so.

United’s energy dissipated and again they struggled in midfield. They briefly rallied at half time and McTominay saw a powerful header saved, but endeavour can only take a team so far. And recklessness, such as Young’s tackle on Jota, can cost dearly. That was his second card in five minutes.

Needing a win, United switched to a 3-3-2-1 formation and they sent three defenders up for corners but they always looked vulnerable and Wolves could smell blood.

All but the 3,000 travelling fans in the 31,302 were delighted to see Smalling’s own goal, to see United beaten again.

“I’m pleased with the performance and to do it twice against such a difficult and amazing team,” said Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo, delivering a compliment which his visitors scarcely deserved.

“We played well enough tonight and created enough chances to win the game,” said Solskjaer.

Perhaps, but the wins that marked his early reign have turned into defeats.

Updated: April 3, 2019 10:56 AM

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