Last updated : 30 January 2006 By editor

They did to the Championship's biggest spending club what they should have done in their first encounter with one of the Conference's semi-professional units. Deprived of any kind of midfield cover, United scored early, controlled the tie and finished immaculately.

But for seeing Louis Saha's back-heel cleared off the line and Ruud van Nistelrooy striking the crossbar, they might have inflicted a quite numbing defeat.

For Sven-Goran Eriksson and Sir Trevor Brooking, huddled against what seemed the advance-guard of a Russian winter, Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand would have been the most interesting men on the pitch, not for the goals Rooney scored - he has not found the net for United in a month - but for where they played.

With seven midfielders on United's books absent because they were injured or on loan, and three members of last year's Cup final squad sold, Sir Alex Ferguson needed to innovate and he did so expertly. Ferdinand was placed in front of the back four where he performed with immense flair, once running directly at the Wolves defence and slipping through Gary Neville, while Rooney, stationed alongside him, proved the casual pub comment that the boy can play anywhere.

It is often said of Eriksson that he has no plan B but if he needed to be prodded into considering options for a German summer then this would have given him cause for thought.

Glenn Hoddle pointed out that in this role Rooney was rather easier to deal with. "He is hardest to play against when he's coming behind the striker," the Wolves manager remarked, admitting the composition of Manchester United's formation had taken him entirely by surprise.

"The goals came at the worst possible time," Hoddle said. "Four minutes into the game, one minute before half-time and five minutes into the second half. The second absolutely killed us."

If his time at West Bromwich would have turned a Wolverhampton crowd against Kieran Richardson, the manner of his finishing certainly did. When, barely into the opening exchanges, Saha's deflected cross fell to Richardson's weaker right foot, you would scarcely have known it. His second, and Manchester United's third, was the work of a delicate little chip from Van Nistelrooy.’