Although the magnificent visiting fans did chant McCarthy's name, they also expressed their views about his team selection. "Where is our first team?'' they enquired, followed by "40 quid to watch the reserves'' and "we want our money back'' as Wolves board members shifted uneasily in the smart seats.
Manchester City 1 Wolverhampton Wanderers 0 : match reportFor those seeking to link McCarthy to a conspiracy, his logic was simple: his first team might have lost to Manchester United anyway, particularly with Rooney so outstanding, and his main priority is to take three points off Burnley next weekend. As a former Manchester City stalwart, and never likely to be fond of Roy Keane's old club, McCarthy never intended to do United a favour but he gifted the champions the opportunity to celebrate Sir Alex Ferguson's 900th League game.
Although the Premier League insisted it was a squad game nowadays, and that Wolves had done nothing against the rules, the immediate reaction to McCarthy's selection was that it was against the spirit of the competition.
Burnley, Wolves' next opponents, and Chelsea, United's title rivals, could be forgiven for feeling aggrieved. McCarthy's pick also seemed disrespectful to the 3,400 Wolves supporters who had braved the M6 and plummeting temperatures, forking out £41 each, to watch outfield players with only 41 Premier League starts between them. Not that it seemed to quieten the Wolves followers, who brought some welcome atmosphere to Old Trafford, although they did chant "we want our money back'' early in the second period.
Football has been down this B-road before, struggling teams like Bryan Robson's West Brom and Neil Warnock's Sheffield United resting regulars against opposition they expected to lose to. In differing circumstances United themselves have fielded understudies en masse, against Hull City last season, albeit on the eve of the Champions League final.
Yet McCarthy's decision to make 10 changes to the side that beat Spurs last weekend seemed tantamount to waving the white flag, an act thoroughly out of keeping with the history of a proud club. To think that in the Fifties, these sides duelled for the League crown. Stan Cullis and Matt Busby, who shared war-time billeting in Italy, were the well-matched managers in those days but the gap between dug-outs is rather larger now.
As the Wolves second-string emerged from the tunnel, it would have been little surprise if the DJ had played something by The Who or even "Strangers in the Night''.
Yet for half an hour until Rooney struck, McCarthy's reserves performed valiantly enough, almost taking the lead through George Friend, whose shot flew over. Wolves' sole striker, the tall Stefan Maierhofer, carried all the elegance of scaffolding collapsing but he occasionally worried Vidic and Michael Carrick, the midfielder again deputising in central defence.
But class will out. The champions were two clear by the break. More familiar faces were soon to the fore. Rooney refused to be complacent about the probability of victory, constantly urging his team-mates to raise their game. United needed to stretch the massed ranks of Old Gold defence, needed their wingers to get behind Wolves full-backs.
Gabriel Obertan initially tried one trick too many but soon went for the jugular more quickly, laying one ball back to Patrice Evra, who immediately found Rooney. Turning sharply in the box, Rooney unleashed a shot that deflected wide. Then Vidic fired over.
United were closing in. On the half-hour, the champions took the lead. Berbatov won a corner and then ran in to meet Darron Gibson's outswinging kick from the flag. As the Bulgarian jumped, Wolves' defenders George Elokobi and Ronaldo Zubar sought to beat him to the ball. Zubar clearly handled, gifting United a penalty.
As Rooney stepped up and Marcus Hahnemann steadied himself on the line, it was impossible not to see it as England v USA and a possible World Cup omen. England prevailed, Rooney firmly despatching his kick past Hahnemann. Fabio Capello should consider Rooney now taking responsibility for England penalty-taking.
Dead-balls were paying off for United. When Gibson then curled in another excellent corner, Vidic escaped Hill and headed down powerfully. Hahnemann got his left hand to the ball but it squirmed over the line.
Halfway through the second period, Vidic was withdrawn by Ferguson and Darren Fletcher introduced. United's back-line now read: Fletcher, De Laet, Carrick and Evra, who assumed the captaincy.
The force remained with United, the champions scoring a sensational third goal. Paul Scholes lifted the ball down the inside-right channel for Berbatov, whose response was inspired. He hooked the ball over his head into the path of Valencia, whose shot disappeared in a blur past Hahnemann.
By now, United were queuing up to take shots at Hahnemann's goal. Danny Welbeck, who had replaced Obertan, tested the Wolves keeper. Gibson let fly from 30 yards but lacked his recent accuracy, the ball sailing over.
Wolves, in fairness, never gave up and threatened occasionally on the counter. When Matthew Jarvis drilled in a cross from the left, Fletcher nipped in smartly to clear.
Yet the ball was largely in United's sway and Rooney looked the picture of frustration when taken off by Ferguson. Michael Owen sprinted on but the main source of attacking hope for United was the excellent Berbatov.
Wolves fans had seen enough, briefly voicing their displeasure but also chanting McCarthy's name.