x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Wolves have found their bite

Two impressive wins have revived team, but the manager McCarthy fears a 'slap' at Old Trafford will bring them down to earth.

Mick McCarthy looked a forlorn figure after Wolverhampton Wanderers lost at home to Birmingham just over two weeks ago. After a hopeless performance, lacking any flair and fight, his team looked like dead men walking in terms of Premier League survival. The subsequent revival has been remarkable. Two wins from two games and a pair of proud performances have taken them out of the bottom three.

McCarthy, ever the pragmatist, is braced for a fall as Wolves travel to Manchester United tonight. He fears a "slap" from the champions, but while few will expect a first Wolves win at Old Trafford since 1980, nobody gave them much hope on Saturday at Tottenham. In Nenad Milijas, McCarthy has someone who can dictate play from midfield. Like his team, the Serbian had struggled to adapt to the pace of the Premier League since his summer arrival from Red Star Belgrade. But he has improved and has been instrumental in their recent good form, especially from set pieces. He set up Kevin Doyle's winner at Spurs with a fine free-kick - his sixth assist in their last seven goals.

Milijas said: "I think people are starting to expect me to put good balls in and I am very happy to put in some good deliveries. We're still in a tough position and need to keep going. We need to play every game like the ones against Tottenham and Bolton and if we do that we will take more points." United will be wary of such a threat. A fourth defeat of the season against Aston Villa at the weekend left Sir Alex Ferguson perplexed. The Premier League may be more competitive this season, but that does not disguise the fact United appear to have lost some of the aura which could intimidate their opposition.

Ferguson has appeared reluctant in recent games to start Dimitar Berbatov or Michael Owen up front with Wayne Rooney. Yet Ferguson is unperturbed about United's plight. He said: "Teams will drop points; that's a fact of life. As I say time and time again, if we're within touching distance of the leaders come January then we're in with a great chance [of the title]." The Scot could do with the guile of Ryan Giggs, but the surprise winner of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award is doubtful with a hamstring injury.

Elsewhere tonight, Villa head to Sunderland aiming to build on that United result. Third place will be theirs with a victory and the captain Stiliyan Petrov said their performances have proved they are contenders this season. "We are looking like a real team and other sides are aware of what potential we have," he added. Their city rivals, Birmingham, have surpassed expectations with a terrific eight-match unbeaten run, including four successive victories. They face Blackburn expecting to make it five and keep them in the European places.

There is also an important game down at the bottom of the table with Bolton hosting West Ham. Both are in relegation spots, but the pairing of Ivan Klasnic and Kevin Davies is starting to bear fruit for Bolton manager Gary Megson. Klasnic claimed two goals in the 3-3 draw against Manchester City and said: "We have not played much together so I hope we can. I am not the man who runs here, there and everywhere, I am a man for the goals."

akhan@thenational.ae Manchester United v Wolves, KO midnight, Showsports 1 & 2