Wolfsburg 1 United 3: Brilliant Owen fires hat-trick as defence holds firm

09 December 2009 02:41
With three midfield players operating in the defence and the chief executive's son sitting next him to him in his boots in the dugout, this was a European night like no other for Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

When he looks back in the future, though, only one thing will matter. His team qualified from the group stages in first position again, thanks to a Michael Owen hat-trick.

At this level, results are all that matter and the victory that United somehow managed to dig out in Saxony will send Ferguson and his depleted squad into the draw for the knock- out stages next week in extremely good heart.

Heads up: Michael Owen scores his and United's first goal

As was to be expected, United spent much of this game on the back foot.When Wolfsburg contemplate their exit from the competition, the Germanteam will ask themselves just how they managed to miss so many chances.

But in the Champions League, class and experience more often thannot will tell. And as United's teenage defender Owen Gill - son ofchief executive David - looked on as a substitute, one of Europe's mostsenior and respected centre forwards walked away with his firsthat-trick in four years.

Owen's early weeks and months at United have been rather underwhelming. His promising form of pre-season evaporated once the real businessstarted and as England secured qualification for the World Cup withouthim, the 29-year-old has spent much of the autumn and early winter inthe shadows.

Pure delight: Owen celebrates in Wolfsburg

But last night proved to be something of a throwback, though. Three goals, each clinically taken. No fuss.

Whether it proves to be a catalyst for something more significantand long lasting, only time will tell. But it was too much forWolfsburg.

Missing bundles of senior players and with Michael Carrick andDarren Fletcher playing in the centre of defence, this was always goingtobe a long night for United, an evening when discipline, courage and theability to follow instructions would prove as valuable as anything moreglamorous.

As the match wore on, these qualities came to the fore. After anuncertain start, Carrick and Fletcher grew in confidence while keeperTomasz Kuszczak contributed perhaps his most assured display of his time at United.

On fire: Owen doubles United's lead

Nevertheless, it was largely down to the German team's poor finishing that United were not dead and buried within half an hour.

Playing on a heavy, muddy pitch and backed by a rowdy full house,Wolfsburg were purposeful and should have been ahead early on.

Theycould have had a penalty when Carrick challenged Makoto Hasebe whilethe Brazilian Grafite whipped a shot wide from the edge of the penaltyarea and Andrea Barzagli and Zvjezdan Misimovic headed over whenunmarked within the first 20 minutes.

United struggled in the air throughout which made it all the moreironic that they took the lead with a header just before half-time.

Hat-trick hero: Owen completes the rout

Ferguson's team had gradually come in to the game as the half wore onand Danny Welbeck had a goal ruled out for offside. And when Nanidelivered a cross to the far post, Owen who had thus far been quiet,nipped in ahead of Marcel Schafer to score simply at the far post.

Behind at the interval, Wolfsburg must have wondered quite how. Butthey responded well in the early stages of the second period and, afterEdin Dzeko stole in behind Carrick to thunder a cross from Schafer into the corner from 10 yards, it appeared as though the home team wereready to make good their place in the next stage.

Grafite brought a good save from Kuszczak with a powerful shot inthe 70th minute before Dzeko was foiled as he delivered a somewhatweaker effort at the near post.

Nice one, son: Michael Owen is congratulated by team-mates in Wolfsburg

As time drew on, it appeared as though a draw was perhaps the limitof United's ambitions. A good result that would have been, too.

But after Ferguson sent on Gabriel Obertan and Antonio Valencia with 17 minutes left his team went on to steal the game.

Obertan, who has improved steadily since recovering from injury sixweeks ago, found a way past three men to cross low from the left in the83rd minute for the unmarked Owen to score from six yards. And thedecisive passage of play then followed as full-time approached.

Wolfsburg looked odds-on to equalise when a low cross flew in frontof the United goal as white shirts closed in. But Darron Gibson managedto clear the danger and within 10 seconds the ball was in the net atthe other end.

Challenge: Makoto Hasebe is challenged by Michael Carrick, who played in the centre of United's defence

Fletcher forgot he was a defender and carried the ball out beforereleasing Owen in to acres of space. The United striker drew thegoalkeeper and lifted the ball over him to secure a hat-trick.

It was a little harsh on Wolfsburg but they had lost to a masterclass from Owen. There is no shame in that.

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Source: Daily_Mail