Even after Mason Greenwood snatched victory 10 minutes from time, there was only one name on the lips of the baying Manchester United supporters: Cristiano Ronaldo. Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side were dreadful in the first half and remained disjointed in the second but after withstanding swells of Wolves pressure, Greenwood rattled in his third goal of the season to extend United’s unbeaten start to the season. Somehow, Wolves are pointless and goalless after three matches and this slender defeat was a particular travesty.
For Bruno Lage, it has been a mightily cruel induction to the Premier League, with his side overpowering and outwitting opponents, not for the first time this season, only to exit empty handed. Wolves stretched the United defence time and again, while David de Gea made a preposterous double-save to stop Romain Saiss from opening the scoring late on. But then Greenwood drifted down the right flank and drove in, his shot squirming under Jose Sa.
The stadium fell silent a few minutes before kick-off, when the public address system announced a very special guest would be making their way on to the pitch and, for a split second or two, you could forgive the more giddy away supporters for wondering whether Ronaldo might emerge from the tunnel. In reality, the South Korea forward Hwang Hee-chan was about to be introduced to the Wolves supporters after arriving on a season’s loan from RB Leipzig.
The United fans that filled the lower tier of the Steve Bull Stand sang Ronaldo’s name from start to finish but the only sign of the striker, who arrived in Lisbon for his medical on Friday, was in the shape of a cardboard cutout cradled by one supporter, while another frantically waved a Portugal flag. Solskjær said the paperwork on Ronaldo’s €20m deal is being finalised.
Solskjær had been criticised in some quarters for persisting with a double defensive pivot and while he loosened the shackles here, with Nemanja Matic among three players to drop out from the draw at Southampton, a ravenous Wolves side painfully exposed his midfield in a one-sided first half. Adama Traore skipped between Paul Pogba and Fred inside three minutes before racing upfield and releasing Raul Jimenez, whose tame shot was kept out by David de Gea at his near post. Traore was having a field day, bouncing off challenges as if driving on the dodgems and the United debutant Raphael Varane got a block in to deny Jimenez after being freed by the winger.
On the opposite flank Trincao caused Luke Shaw problems and the Wolves winger would have capitalised on a daredevil start by United, only for Aaron Wan-Bissaka to clear his arrowed shot off the line. Wolves stormed forward on the counterattack through Ruben Neves, encouraged to surge forward by Lage, the manager throwing his hands into the air like daggers, and Trincao sped past Fred and into the box before Wan-Bissaka intervened at the last. United were being bombarded and Solskjær knew it, a first-half stoppage providing respite and time for him to hastily feed instructions to players.
United roused approaching the interval but it was a lukewarm first-half display at best. Bruno Fernandes, booked by Mike Dean for protesting against a decision not to award a foul in his favour, scored with United’s first shot on target on 40 minutes but was swiftly ruled offside and on the brink of the interval Greenwood sent a shot narrowly wide of a post, after latching on to a deft flick by Fernandes that set the striker free down the left.
United failed to convince after the break and presumably Solskjaer was equally underwhelmed, introducing the current No 7, Edinson Cavani, eight minutes into the second half in place of Daniel James. Varane made a crucial block to prevent Trincao from squaring for Jimenez moments before Cavani’s arrival but Wolves did not relent. Jimenez crashed a header wide and then Trincao fluffed his lines, miscuing his shot after Traore, slipped in by Jimenez, spotted the winger lurking unmarked by the penalty spot.
It was a golden chance and the omens appeared on United’s side when De Gea somehow prevented Saiss from opening the scoring with 21 minutes left to play. Joao Moutinho floated in a corner, which was superbly won by – who else? – the indomitable Traore and Saiss rose above Varane to head at goal. De Gea pawed away the first attempt and then sprung instinctively to his left to get two hands to the second. Eventually Wolves would be punished for their profligacy, Greenwood powering in to smuggle victory.