Ole Gunnar Solskjaer calls Manchester United's FA Cup exit to Wolves 'a big step backwards'

United beaten 2-1 at Molineux, their second successive defeat on the road after recording nine away wins on the trot

The skies were a foreboding grey around Wolverhampton, but unlike the song which Manchester United fans sing about their manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, he could not make them happy.

Wolverhampton Wanders beat United 2-1 in the FA Cup to reach a semi-final for the first time since 1998. They deserved it, just as they were the better team at Old Trafford in the league earlier in the season. All three goals came in a far livelier second half than the first, but while United’s forwards in a strong line-up offered little threat, goalkeeper Sergio Romero kept his team in the game with three excellent saves before Raul Jimenez’s opener after 70 minutes and Diogo Jota’s goals six minutes later. Marcus Rashford managed a 94th minute goal that offered scant consolation.

For United, a second consecutive away loss followed nine consecutive away wins. The FA Cup represented Solskjaer’s best chance of a trophy this season and the run of away wins had thrilled fans, but it all ended on the rainy, windswept Saturday evening in the West Midlands.

“That was a big step backwards,” Solskjaer said after the game. “That’s the poorest performance since I’ve come here. There was a lack of urgency going forward, of forward passing, and regains. The international break sometimes comes in handy.

“We would have loved to play again and put it right, but it’s an international break now. Hopefully some of them will have good experiences with the national team and be ready to push again because we’re in a great position in the league and in the Champions League.”

Despite the optimistic outlook, Solskjaer couldn’t hide how he really felt. “It’s very disappointing tonight that we’re not in semis,” he said before heading back to Manchester.

United don’t deserve to be there and when asked what he had said to his players, Solskjaer added: "I told the players the truth. Of course you can’t sit down and sulk too long. Everyone is disappointed but we have to move forward. We know that we played well against Arsenal last week [a 2-0 defeat] and didn’t get what we deserved, but we got what we deserved today.”

Asked if he had a message for the fans, the Norwegian said: “We’ll be ready to go again after internationals, we’ve got so much to play for. Man United in April and May always find their good form.”

During Solskjaer’s playing days, perhaps, but last season petered out badly for United as they ended the campaign trophyless. There’s a danger of it happening again, with tough challenges ahead against Barcelona in the Champions League and trying to finish in the Premier League top four to ensure Champions League qualification for next season. United are currently fifth, two points behind Arsenal and three behind Tottenham Hotspur with eight games to play. Chelsea are a point behind United with a game in hand.

“I can’t wait for the challenge for third and, of course, the big night when Barca come. So many highlights to look forward to,” Solskjaer said.

“Don’t worry about the players’ attitude. When they come back they’ll give it a good go.

"We didn’t do enough tonight and Sergio kept us in the game, but we never put their keeper under pressure.”

Manchester United's Paul Pogba speaks with referee Martin Atkinson during the match. Reuters
Manchester United's Paul Pogba speaks with referee Martin Atkinson during the match. Reuters

United fans will worry, Wolves fans less so after enjoying the best atmosphere at their Molineux home in years. The away fans were curiously quiet.

“We played well and we did it together with our fans,” said Nuno Espirito Santo, the Wolves manager. “Just as we did it with Liverpool and we did it with Shrewsbury [in previous rounds]. It means a lot to be in the semi-final of the oldest cup competition in the world. What pleases me most is as I walk down the stands, is that people say that they saw the 1950s and 60s and they’re still coming to games. To give them this joy and see the fans going out of stadium with a smile. The atmosphere was amazing, fantastic.”

Wolves are stocked with technically gifted midfielders Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho. They have a tactically astute manager and coaching staff including the Ian Cathro, the Scot who worked with him at Valencia.

“I think we did very well in the first half when we were compact and organised,” added Nuno.

“We allowed them possession of ball, but tried to recover in the right areas. In the second half we managed the ball better and created problems for them. It was a very good performance with the exception of the goal we conceded, but our work is never finished. One loss of focus can create problems.”

Wolves are seventh in the Premier League and in the FA Cup semi-final. It has been an exceptional season for the promoted team.

“Last season we did amazing games in the Championship,” said Nuno. “But we have a growing process and it never finishes, it will never be perfect.”

It felt like perfection to the Wolves fans on Saturday night as they knocked Manchester United out of the FA Cup.

Updated: March 17, 2019 02:54 PM


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