Premier League - United put five past 10-man Wolves
Manchester United opened up a four-point lead at the top of the Premier League table in emphatic style when dismantling 10-man Wolves 5-0 at Molineux.
United, responding magnificently to their humbling Europa League exit at the hands of Athletic Bilbao in midweek, exploited some lamentable defending from the home side and a red card shown to Ronald Zubar in the first half as they extended their lead over rivals Manchester City with a performance of real verve.
Jonny Evans had already claimed his first goal for the club when Zubar was shown a second yellow card after 40 minutes, and both Antonio Valencia and Danny Welbeck found time to score before the break, with their goals ensuring Wolves dropped below Wigan to move bottom of the table on goal difference.
Javier Hernandez then scored twice inside five second-half minutes to complete the rout, and give Wolves further cause for introspection with the club having now taken one point from four games since sacking Mick McCarthy, conceding 14 goals in the process.
Events at White Hart Lane on Saturday - with Fabrice Muamba suffering a cardiac arrest and remains in critical condition as a result - loomed large over all of the weekend's football and at Molineux Howard Webb was excused fourth official duties having been the referee on hand when the Bolton midfielder collapsed to the turf. In an admirable gesture, both sets of players and fans conducted a moment of applause in support of Muamba as he fights for his life.
Having been completely outplayed by Athletic in Europe, United fielded a very attacking formation with Hernandez, Wayne Rooney and Welbeck deployed from the start. Meanwhile, Paul Scholes made his 689th appearance for United in all competitions, becoming the club's third-highest appearance maker, overtaking Bill Foulkes.
Coming into the game on the back of a run of 12 wins in 15 league outings, the visitors enjoyed almost complete control in a dominant first-half performance. Hernandez and Rooney lurked with intent while the returning Valencia looked ready to tear Wolves asunder at every opportunity.
It was Valencia who carved out the first good chance of the game as his cute reverse pass found Rafael. However, the Brazilian defender's cross proved just out of the reach of Hernandez, who failed to connect when extending his leg in the centre of the box.
Wolves were limited to half chances from outside the box - though Steven Fletcher did head wide while just being caught offside - while United continued to press forward and took the lead after 21 minutes.
Michael Carrick drifted off his marker to meet a deep cross from Rooney at the back post and his hooked pass across the face of goal was met by Evans, who was left completely unmarked to volley home for his first United goal.
The league leaders had won 21 and drawn two of the previous 23 games in which they had taken the lead and never looked in any danger of surrendering their advantage at Molineux. Indeed, Wolves' fate was sealed on 40 minutes when Zubar was shown a second yellow card. Having already clattered into Rooney with a poor challenge, the defender then went in late on Welbeck and could have few arguments when ordered to the stands.
With Wolves also pressed into a change when an injury to David Davis saw the young man replaced by Eggert Jonsson, United showed their ruthlessness when profiting from the home side's disorganisation to the full.
After 43 minutes it was 2-0 as United mounted a superb break from a Wolves corner. Rooney dinked the ball down the line for Valencia, who surged forward 40 yards with the ball and drove into the box before thumping the ball past Wayne Hennessey from a tight angle.
Wolves were falling apart and Richard Stearman was fortunate not to be punished for a body check on Hernandez in the box that left the striker furious. However, United did score a third soon after. Evans released Valencia with a glorious cross-field pass and the winger's cut-back found Welbeck, who finished first time to give his side an insurmountable lead at the break.
Within 11 minutes of the restart, Hernandez also etched his name onto the scoresheet. The striker was criminally left in metres of space to head home from close range following a short-corner routine after a low effort from Rooney had been turned around the post.
As Wolves continued to implode, Hernandez snatched a second five minutes later. Valencia received a glorious backheeled return pass from Welbeck as he burst into space in the box and the Ecuador international curled in a cross to the back post where Hernandez was waiting to sweep the ball home in emphatic style.
The away supporters responded remarkably well to the chasm opening up between the two sides and were almost rewarded when David De Gea repelled a shot from Michael Kightly, saved from a Fletcher header and then saw Stephen Ward fail to nod in at the back post when meeting a fine cross from Kightly.
However, United remained the superior side and only a fantastic low save from Hennessey prevented Welbeck from making it 6-0 after he received a neat pass from Rooney and cut through the heart of the home defence yet again on another difficult afternoon.