Up the steps into the directors’ box, and Sir Alex Ferguson arrived to a warm round of applause like a much-loved grandfather appearing at his family birthday party, although this particular family – as he knows only too well – seems to get ever more dysfunctional with each year that passes.
This was Ferguson’s first game back at Old Trafford since his brain haemorrhage five months ago and while he looks a little frailer his presence is something that every Manchester United supporters hangs on to as they feel his era fading into history. There were so many afternoons when he would zip up the black overcoat, march down the touchline and oversee the demolition of a traumatised Premier League mediocrity with a certainty that no longer exists at United.
In the modern Premier League that Ferguson left more than five years ago, that is rarely the case any longer, and when the old Scot’s latest successor, Jose Mourinho, cast a regretful gaze back over this draw he observed that Wolverhampton Wanderers had played “like it was a World Cup final”. He was complimenting them for battling for every ball and straining every sinew, but actually Wolves are a much more accomplished side than just a bunch of triers seizing the day.
They came to play fluent attacking football and Joao Moutinho’s second half equaliser was no less than they deserved as a club who benefit from the expertise of Jorge Mendes, the super-agent whose rise to power coincided with that of his most famous managerial client, Mourinho. There is no question that the rank and file of the Premier League are of a better standard now, but Mourinho’s team should have enough superstars to make the difference.
Not, it should be said, this time. Alexis Sanchez was dreadful, and substituted after the hour. Romelu Lukaku was either offside or too uncertain of his touch to contribute a goal. Paul Pogba’s performance was one that suggested he was determined to be involved in everything, the good and the bad, and indeed he was. His pass to Fred for United’s goal was his team’s most perceptive moment and yet it was Pogba who gave up possession in midfield for Ruben Neves to start the move that ended in Wolves’ equaliser.
“The attitude made the difference,” Mourinho said. “They [Wolves] were in the game from the first minute, they played every ball every second at the maximum of their intensity and desire, and we didn't. We started poorly. We started both halves at a low intensity and it’s difficult to win matches when you are not there.”
The run of three wins, all away from home, came to an end at an Old Trafford that once again was troubled by the performance of its team. Mourinho said that he preferred the way his side played last time they were at home, the 3-0 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur, because at least then he could detect a will to try to take the initiative in the game. It is obvious what is wrong, the failure to dominate teams and overwhelm them, but much harder to see how it might be put right.
Post-Spurs, Mourinho was ferocious in the defence of his own reputation. This time he just seemed defeated by the volatility of his side’s form. “I can’t explain the difference in attitude because I never have a difference of attitude,” he said. “We won two matches away and we come home with a good spirit. We come home in peace because we recover and then you start in a poor way and I could say ‘tired’. Champions League, awful pitch [in Berne], the body suffers a different impact than natural grass, not coming home after the match.”
But he was reluctant to issue any excuses, with a team that he pointed out featured Jesse Lingard, Alexis Sanchez and Antonio Valencia, all of whom had not played against Young Boys the previous Wednesday. Neither Marouane Fellaini nor Fred had started that match either and so Mourinho struggled for an explanation as to why his side had been so jaded.
This is a different Wolves now, with “those two Portuguese boys” as Mourinho referred to the excellent Moutinho and Neves, capable of retaining possession and taking the pressure off. It was Neves’ pass to Helder Costa that created the opening for the goal and nothing Luke Shaw tried could stop Costa getting the ball across where Raul Jimenez laid it off to Moutinho. At the end Nuno Espirito Santo sent on Adama Traore, his winger who runs so quickly that you feel he may be in the car park before he makes his mind up whether to pass or shoot.
Traore forced a fine late save out of David De Gea and it was not the only one he had to make, stopping a header from Willy Boly on 17 minutes. United were never really in control, even a minute later when Pogba played a clever little ball into Fred’s path and he swept a shot past Rui Patricio. Fred and Pogba never got on top of Wolves’ two midfield generals.
“These two Portuguese boys, they are both the kind of player that likes to bite and press over short distances,” Mourinho said. “We know that they don’t give time for you to have the ball, to turn [take] one touch and [then] two touches so we conceded in a situation that is even harder to accept. But that is one goal that we conceded and we have 90 minutes to show a different attitude and we have to do that.”
The gap to the top of the Premier League looks daunting for United already. They will fall to seventh behind Arsenal if Unai Emery’s team win against Everton and the gap to the leaders is already significant. Liverpool’s start to the season has earned them 18 points, eight more than United and only really Manchester City and Chelsea are staying with the leaders. United face Derby County on Tuesday in the Carabao Cup at Old Trafford and then they have to win against West Ham in London next Saturday to make sure they are within sight of Liverpool.
Ferguson is back in his seat at least, well aware that no-one has come close to replacing him. “It’s fantastic news for everyone,” Mourinho said. “Not just for Manchester United family, I think for everybody.” The last time a Ferguson United team faced Wolves in the Premier League, in 2011-2012 they put nine past them over the course of two wins, although all that feels a very long time ago.
Full time: Man Utd 1 Wolves 1
All over at Old Trafford, and United's three-game winning run has come to an end with a frustrating afternoon at home. Nuno Espirito Santo embraces Jose Mourinho on the touchline, before the latter puffs his cheeks and trudges down the tunnel. Wolves were full value for the point, while United displayed some familiar failings going forward.
90 min +4 - Man Utd 1 Wolves 1
Fellaini is now the target for United. Wolves, meanwhile, happy to aim for the far corner flag.
90 min +2 - Man Utd 1 Wolves 1
Traore gathers the ball on the right. Luke Shaw takes a breath. Traore takes him on and fires a shot at the near post! De Gea kicks it away.
90 min +1 - Man Utd 1 Wolves 1
There will be five (FIVE) added minutes.
89 min - Man Utd 1 Wolves 1
Fellaini collects a long pass and forces a corner. Perreira whips it in, and it's flicked goalwards by the head of Conor Coady...but just over the bar. Fellaini wins the next corner, which leads to a brief scramble, but all Wolves hands are on deck now.
87 min - Man Utd 1 Wolves 1
Wolves make the obligatory slow-motion substitution - Morgan Gibbs White on for Jota - as the clock continues to tick down.
84 min - Man Utd 1 Wolves 1
Romain Saiss - just on as a sub - slides in on Martial to give United a promosing set-piece situation over to the left. Sub Andreas Perreira fancies a go, but he hits the wall, as does Mata with the follow-up.
82 min - Man Utd 1 Wolves 1
Old Trafford groans as two Wolves defenders - Doherty and Boly - collide in their own box as they foil a Lukaku surge and require some treatment. I'm still sensing a late winner and some Mourinho touchline chest-thumping...
78 min - Man Utd 1 Wolves 1
United really starting to turn the screw, with Martial and Mata finding some awkward pockets of space. Then, as predicted, Traore leads a counter-attack for some brief respite.
78 min - Man Utd 1 Wolves 1
United free kick, dead centre, about 40 yards out. Pogba gallops up to the ball and smacks it almightily...straight at Patricio.
77 min - Man Utd 1 Wolves 1
Jonny tries to head the ball back to Patricio, but concedes a cheap corner instead, from which Wolves hold firm. They can afford to sit in a little now, thanks to the outlet that Traore will provide.
75 min - Man Utd 1 Wolves 1
On comes Traore and, well....this:
74 min - Man Utd 1 Wolves 1
Pogba dances up the touchline to get another United attack going, but it ends with the crowd urging Martial to do something - anything - other than just stand with the ball at his feet. Lingard eventually crosses into the gloves of Patricio.
72 min - Man Utd 1 Wolves 1
Fellaini rises at the back post to meet a deep cross from Luke Shaw, but Rui Patricio was ready for it. Old Trafford sounds a bit grumbly.
69 min - Man Utd 1 Wolves 1
Wolves are great. Plenty of sides can cause a shock like this, but few promoted teams would come to Old Trafford and be so confident. They haven't chucked the kitchen sink at De Gea, but Moutinho has ensured they haven't simply been giving the ball back for 70 minutes. Could be another twist in this - Adam Traore's coming on. Excited? You'd better be.
67 min - Man Utd 1 Wolves 1
Wolves had been knocking on the door. Meanwhile, Lingard forces Patricio to tip over the bar with a 30-yarder. United far from done yet. Pogba crosses, Lukaku is unmarked....but he heads wide! And the flag was up.
63 min - Man Utd 1 Wolves 1
Changes. Off come Fred and Sanchez, to be replaced by Anthony Martial and Juan Mata.
61 min - Man Utd 1 Wolves 1
Wolves holding their own in the midfield battle right now, but you suspect Pogba alone has another gear or two. He duly strides through, only to be felled by Neves, who is booked.
58 min - Man Utd 1 Wolves 1
Helder Costa picks the ball up 35 yards out, runs at Shaw and Lindelof - who can't decide who should step out to challenge - but then fires a shot waaaaaay over the bar.
55 min - Man Utd 1 Wolves 1
Mourinho 1 Moutinho 1, then. Suspect United will attack with a little more urgency now, but credit to Wolves for not giving up the search for an equaliser.
GOAL! Man Utd 1 Wolves 1 (Moutinho 53 mins)
HELLO! Just as United's opener came against the run of play, so too has Wolves' leveller! Helder Costa slides in a cross from the right, Jimenez holds up the ball and lays it off to Joao Moutinho to guide home his first Premier League goal!
52 min - Man Utd 1 Wolves 0
Sanchez barrels through the Wolves defence to complete a one-two with Lukaku, but his shot is smothered by Rui Patricio.
49 min - Man Utd 1 Wolves 0
Wolves squander a promising opening at one end and, seconds later - after a raking Pogba pass - Lukaku's shot is blocked by a white shirt at the other.
46 min - Man Utd 1 Wolves 0
271 times United have led a Premier League game at half-time on home turf, and 271 times they've avoided defeat. That bodes well for Wolves, then, who - like United - have made no changes at the break. We go again...
Half time: Man Utd 1 Wolves 0
Not straightforward for Manchester United, but - a couple of smart De Gea saves aside - there have been few palpitations for Mourinho on the touchline. The United ship has been royally steadied since the ignominy of losing 3-0 to Spurs last month.
Fred, who opened the scoring, nearly doubled his tally right on the cusp of half time, but his whipped free kick was stopped by a full-stretch Rui Patricio.
44 min - Man Utd 1 Wolves 0
Shaw forces the backtracking Jimenez into an semi-unwitting handball on the left edge of the box. Sanchez stands over the ball, which - despite the throng of six-footers in the area - he whips into Row K. Poor.
41 min - Man Utd 1 Wolves 0
Luke Shaw is booked for dragging down Helder Costa as they chased a ball down the channel. Wolves have a decent position to swing the ball in from the right, but Pogba's head clears and Wolves retreat. Jesse Lingard charges out and almost catches Rui Patricio's clearance upfield.
37 min - Man Utd 1 Wolves 0
Wolves threaten briefly with Jota, but United sweep back upfield with Sanchez, once again, stepping off the front line and looking for a killer pass. It doesn't come off, though.
32 min - Man Utd 1 Wolves 0
Fred power-drifts in a free kick from the right flank, aimed at Fellaini, who manages to nod the ball across goal, only for it to evade an entire Swan Lake's worth of flailing limbs. Wolves survive this time.
30 min - Man Utd 1 Wolves 0
Wolves' early endeavour has been blown away by that United goal, but this is far from a damage-limitation exercise. Diogo Jota twice wrestles with Smalling down the left, but it's a goal kick on both occasions.
26 min - Man Utd 1 Wolves 0
Can you name all 500 before half-time? Go...
24 min - Man Utd 1 Wolves 0
Fellaini - the Unlikely Playmaker - is casually running things from the halfway line as Pogba and Fred operate further upfield for United. Wolves remain on the look-out for a counter-attack.
21 min - Man Utd 1 Wolves 0
Wolves shouldn't be too deflated here. They had the better start, Jimenez was leading the line well, but United can rely on De Gea to weather such storms. Fred's goal was a sucker punch.
GOAL! Man Utd 1 (Fred, 18 mins) Wolves 0
Out of the blue, United have the lead! Paul Pogba collects a headed clearance on the edge of the box, slips the ball superbly into the path of Fred, who turns and clumps the ball into the corner from 18 yards! An odd technique, perhaps, but it worked.
16 min - Man Utd 0 Wolves 0
"Is this a library?" ask the travelling support. Anyway, in comes another Wolves corner, Willy Boly meets it, and De Gea is forced into a superb save to claw the ball away from the top-right corner!
13 min - Man Utd 0 Wolves 0
Wolves win another corner, as Jimenez lurks on the shoulder of Chris Smalling, who takes no risks in booting the ball into the stands. In comes the outswinger, and Ryan Bennett climbs above Pogba...to head into the Stretford End. Decent start, this.
11 min - Man Utd 0 Wolves 0
Touchline expressions of both managers can be summarised thus:
Mourinho: constantly looking like someone's talking about him five yards away
Nuno Espirito Santo: Plotting something dastardly
7 min - Man Utd 0 Wolves 0
CHANCE! United begin to dominate possession, as Wolves' Conor Coady has the task of marshalling Romelu Lukaku. But Ruben Neves then drops deep to spread play for the visitors, Helder Costa skips down the right and Raul Jimenez turns to shoot against David De Gea's legs! Typically lightning reactions and a good save.
5 min - Man Utd 0 Wolves 0
United's first attack of note ends with Antonio Valencia tumbling over just inside the box! More appeals from the stands for Jonny Castro's risky challenge, but referee Kevin Friend is not in accommodating mood.
2 min - Man Utd 0 Wolves 0
Wolves win an early corner, which summons forward the likes of Willy Boly, but Fellaini - naturally - is the first head to the ball to clear.
Off and running...
Wolves, all in white, get the action started at Old Trafford.
Teams are in the tunnel...
...and we're almost ready to go at Old Trafford. Wolves' team selection suggests they aren't budging from their normal gameplan - for the sake of spectacle, let's hope that's the case.
Tactics corner: where this game will be won
JJ Bull has done his thing - what will decide this one at Old Trafford?
Santo's Wolves are superb on the counter-attack and very nearly took more than a single point from champions Man City in their 1-1 draw. The key to it was having Jimenez, Diogo Jota and Costa ready to pounce on any forward pass made from the back, taking advantage in the space left by wandering full-backs.
United are unlikely to leave their defence as exposed as City did but they must still be aware. Moutinho has made 15 tackles, Jonny 14, Willy Boly and Neves 12 - the closest Man Utd player is Luke Shaw with seven. The point being that Wolves actively look to win the ball back and use these turnovers in possession to their advantage.
Moutinho's record at doing this is of note as his distribution is excellent. A won tackle and smart pass into space for Costa to run onto could put Young or Shaw in trouble. Adama Traore may well make an appearance off the bench late on too and his electric, powerful running and close control will cause real problems for any players feeling the effects of the trip to Switzerland on Wednesday.
Sir Alex is back
Lovely to see the great man back where he belongs after his health scare earlier this summer:
Starts for Fellaini and Fred in Jose Mourinho's midfield, while Wolves haven't altered their starting XI one bit from the 1-0 win over Burnley last weekend.
Mourinho: we are in for a difficult season
Jose Mourinho expects this to be a "very difficult season", despite Manchester United becoming a better, more attractive side.
The Red Devils crammed a lot into the start of the 2018-19 campaign, with an opening-day victory against Leicester overshadowed by galling back-to-back defeats to Brighton and Tottenham.
The 3-0 loss to Spurs at Old Trafford represented the heaviest home defeat of Mourinho's career - a setback that ratcheted up scrutiny and pressure, but one they responded to with a run of three successive away wins in all competitions.
That form has lifted United ahead of Saturday's clash against Wolves, yet growing optimism is underpinned by the manager's sustained belief - first uttered in pre-season as transfer frustration grew - that this will be a tough campaign.
"I am optimistic, but a difficult season, yes," Mourinho said. "For sure a difficult season.
"I don't change that because we won two matches in the Premier League. A difficult season for sure.
"You see the level of the teams - you see the Liverpool squad, City squad, Chelsea squad, Tottenham squad, Arsenal improving. It's going to be difficult.
"I am not saying that we are going to have more points than last season because last season we collected a very acceptable number of points.
"But I think we are going to be a better team. We are going to play better than we did, so that's what we can do.
"But I think it's going to be a very difficult season, not just for us, also for the others because the others they can say exactly the same as I am saying.
"And they can say, 'Oh, Manchester United, good team, good squad, City good squad, good team'. All of them, they can say the same thing.
"So, I think if they think the season is going to easy for them, I think they are wrong, but I don't think they are wrong because they all know the season is going to be difficult."
That the season follows a World Cup also adds to the challenge, a fact epitomised by Tottenham - the club with the most semi-finalists - losing three successive games since comprehensively winning at Old Trafford.
Mourinho believes any post-Russia hangover is mental rather than physical, with World Cup winner Paul Pogba inspiring United to victory in their Champions League opener at Young Boys.
"I think it is (a mental thing)," he said. "I think good results, good performances, they make miracles - and bad results and bad performances, they make you look more tired, more upset, more ugly, more everything. Football is a little bit like this.
"A team that yesterday looked very bad, today looks very good and yesterday looked very good, today looks very bad. I think this is more the influence of the moment.
"I think Paul came from the World Cup and he was the last one to come because he played the final.
"I think the happiness, the confidence, the self-esteem was what pushed him to play the first match almost without training against Leicester and played a very good match.
"It's more about the moment and the momentum is very important in the positive and negative way."
United certainly have momentum ahead of Saturday's visit of Wolves after beating Young Boys 3-0 in Wednesday's Champions League opener.
Marcus Rashford and Nemanja Matic will have to drop out of that line-up through suspension, while Anthony Martial will be among the other changes from the team in Switzerland.
Alexis Sanchez, an unused substitute in Bern, will come in and Mourinho believes the January signing, like the rest of his squad, has another level to go up.
"Sanchez plays tomorrow," the United boss said when asked if Martial had put pressure on the Chilean.
"Because Martial played 90 minutes and Sanchez played zero."
Asked if Sanchez still has another level to reach, Mourinho added: "Every player has another level to step up."