FA Cup: Wolves 2-1 Man Utd highlightsWolverhampton Wanderers fans flooded joyously away from Molineux after their FA Cup quarter-final victory over Manchester United, their raucous celebrations fitting given the significance of this landmark win.
The recent rise of Wolves has been speedy under their charismatic Portuguese manager Nuno Espirito Santo, with a stylish promotion to the Premier League followed by a highly impressive first season back among the elite.
Wolves’ owners, the Chinese Fosun group, have high ambitions, while the close involvement of super agent Jorge Mendes – frowned upon by some rivals – has brought players of the highest quality to the club.
What Wolves needed, however, was a statement win to add the final gloss of self-belief to the club and its supporters, and to to demonstrate that one of the old powerhouses of English football is back and is not going away any time soon.
If evidence was needed, this magnificent display on an atmospheric night at a rocking Molineux provided it.
In 11 games against the top six this season, Wolves have proved they are a growing force, winning four, drawing four and losing only three.
This, however, was the win to reinforce the message. And they are a developing side with power to add.
Yes, they beat Liverpool in the third round, but it was against a shadow side put out by Jurgen Klopp. This was a fully-merited dispatch of a resurgent United side that had already won away at Arsenal and Chelsea to reach this quarter-final.
The flashlights, flames, heavy rock music and pyrotechnics that warmed the night and cut through the driving rain were followed by a Wolves performance worthy of the fanfare that preceded it.
Nuno describes his team’s framework as “talent based on organisation”, and that was the template for this win.
Wolves, as they have shown throughout this season, can look a very powerful package on occasions and they showcased it on one of the best nights Molineux has enjoyed in years.
This was a mature performance, with the first 30 minutes an object lesson in game management to draw the sting (admittedly not much of it) from Manchester United before growing in confidence and quality.
Wolves were solid at the back, with captain Conor Coady the leader, while the shrewd and subtle promptings of Joao Moutinho were augmented by the eye-catching contributions of the elegantly threatening Ruben Neves.
And then there is the twin spearhead.
Raul Jimenez’s loan signing from Benfica had been a masterstroke and the 27-year-old Mexican was outstanding again, showing exactly why Wolves are certain to press ahead with the option to conclude a permanent £30m deal.
He, alongside Diogo Jota, ran United to ruins and he was only denied an opener by Sergio Romero’s magnificent save before breaking the deadlock. Jota’s goal was fully deserved as the pair’s partnership cast a giant shadow over United’s ragged rearguard.
And how Molineux loved every second of it, supporters who have endured football’s hard times now daring to dream that a first major trophy since 1980’s League Cup win over Nottingham Forest at Wembley might be coming into view.
It was not lost on Nuno that fans old and young revelled in the triumph as they poured out onto the streets high on the emotion of a thunderous night.
“As I was coming down the stands there are people saying they have been coming since the 1950s and 60s and they are still coming and we are giving them back this joy, the smiles – with a lot of beer of course,” he said.
“We did it together and we are doing it together. The FA Cup is a huge competition. We played well and we achieved this with our amazing support.”
‘That’s been coming’ – Jimenez puts Wolves aheadSolskjaer’s worst night
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer described Manchester United’s awful display as “a big step backwards” – a masterpiece of understatement.
The interim manager and his players have had all the bouquets, deservedly, since Jose Mourinho’s sacking in December, but this performance warranted only brickbats.
United suffered back-to-back defeats for the first time under Solskjaer. They deserved no more because they sleepwalked into trouble at Molineux.
Solskjaer will hope it is merely a blip rather than a return to old habits that blighted the club under Mourinho – but there were alarming signs.
Wolves were quicker, more urgent, more organised, more skilful, more decisive.
United barely got out of neutral, never mind into first gear, and there was not a realistic hint of a comeback once the Wolves one-two had been delivered in the space of six minutes, even though Marcus Rashford pulled a goal back at the death.
Solskjaer’s momentum, for now at least, has been halted and there is no escaping just how bad and off the pace United were.
He will look to gather his forces again during the international break before the renewed battle for a top-four place and the forthcoming Champions League quarter-final against Barcelona.
No such problems for Wolves.
It seemed like everyone leaving Molineux late on Saturday night was walking on air. They can scent FA Cup glory as they prepare for their first semi-final for 21 years.
‘Wembley beckons’ – Jota doubles Wolves lead