A goal to define our season? Having conceded a slapstick equaliser, things were looking grim, but Miggy popped up from the bench to grab the winner. Sam Dalling reports from St James’ on a vital victory for United.
Miguel Almirón slid towards the Leazes Corner on his knees. Kieran Trippier then dropped to his. Relief; elation; pure fucking adrenaline. For so long this season the pair have orchestrated United’s right-hand side. Through the former’s purple patch, through the latter’s eternal patch.
Yet today was different. They were friends reunited, separated at kick off. Call it a rest, call it a dropping, call it whatever you fucking like. United needed something different; Miggy needed a forced removal.
His introduction, while not directly relevant, saw Wolves equalise. Trippier did not hear the Papal scream, and suddenly Wolves were level, Hwang’s introduction looking masterful. The mood dipped, what with United’s two most potent attacking outlets having just departed. There was resignation in the air.
It had until that point looked like any clanger would come from Nick Pope. One of the new-fangled ball playing goalkeepers Pope is not. For the cricket connoisseurs, he is your Jack Russell, your Ben Foakes. He is not your Jos Buttler nor MS Dhoni.
There were a pair of fine second half saves, a free-kick denial included. But then there were touches that can, with kindness, be described as heavy. Sol Campbell heavy. Quite how Pope avoided conceding a penalty when seemingly felling Raúl Jiménez will be the talk of Wolverhampton this evening. That VAR deemed it not worthy of intervention is baffling.
In fairness, Pope remained relaxed. Even deep into injury-time he was merrily deep in his Yogi squat, without a care in his world.
Then the whistle all of SJP has craved for so long. One of significance, one of three points, one of European adventure. There is no must win at this point. That notion was banished shortly post-takeover. But there is a need to win, particularly when those around you fail – think your Liverpools, your Manchester Uniteds, even your Brighton and Hove dwellers.
So yes, a need to win. Bruno joined the knee sinking brigade as the referee’s screech came. KC and the Sunshine band reverberated around this mammoth metal cocoon. All tension dissipated.
That stress had not been present during the first half. United were as dominant as they have been, Wolves’ ploy to play for just the one point evident.
Alex Isak. Oh, sweet Alex Isak. An agent of equal parts chaos and quality. Gliding, darting, running. And then rising to head United in front. It was a sweet header, the Swede flicking two fingers in the direction of the True Faith scribe who suggested his aerial prowess was a weakness. Two fingers indeed. All that set-piece wastage forgotten.
Likewise Joelinton’s absence. Joe Willock was the only person ever likely to step in, and he did so gloriously. No surprises really. The pair are, despite first glances suggesting otherwise, virtually identical in profile. One is a tad more “shooty”, the other a little more “tackly”. But that aside, their diagrams are indistinguishable. Most importantly both have hearts the size of the Metro Arena.
And then there was Maxi. The birthday boy. This was not the heart racing display against Manchester City, but it was his most Eddie Howe performance, one of discipline, one of **checks notes** actual passing. Three times in the opening ten minutes, ASM gave the early ball.
The interplay with Isak was fascinating and promising in equal parts. Across the front of Craig Dawson, Isak angled, lurking in the expanse betwixt centre-back and right-back. And then with his tail up, closing in on goal, excitement peaked.
All those years of groaning at him to give it early, to not do too much, and if anything the opposite was true. The masses were still celebrating Isak’s opener wildly, while Maxi was receiving stern, gesticulation-filled words from Eddie Howe. The gist appeared to be: get at your man.
Wolves barely flickered. True, Daniel Podence rattled the post, but Bruno did likewise to the bar. Julien Lopetegui – he of Spain and Real Madrid fame – was Crazy Frogging on the sideline, dancing in and out of his technical area to chastise his team.
He did United a favour in starting Adama Traore. When team sheets dropped, many feared Dan Burn would once again be beaten. But, instead, it was Traore slung at the interval, ineffective other than as a walking, hulking advert for Johnson’s. Single-handedly, he keeps them afloat.
The problem for Wolves is that he is a “twenty minutes at the end” merchant. But then he does what he does – like against Spurs – and the pressure is on to start him. It rarely works.
Wolves have some players of aesthetic beauty. But there is a changing of the guard, with Traore, Joao Moutinho, and Raúl Jiménez all out of contract. Ruben Neves has another year, but is expected to depart. Tyneside, perhaps?
It was Neves’ strike that almost settled the reverse fixture, but even he has off days. Twice when well-placed he struck wildly. They grew but United matched and then bettered them. That was in no tiny part down to Sven Botman and Fabian Schär, another pair reacquainted and imperious. There is something about them, something complimentary like the way a fine red goes with a flash-fried, prime cut. Enjoy them. Just enjoy them.
This felt seminal, the masses staying behind to applaud the lap of honour. One elderly lady turned to her husband of many years as Trippier passed by. “Everything he does is class isn’t it?” “Aye.” “I’m so glad he is ours.”