WOLVERHAMPTON, England -- And so, after 90 minutes on a cold Saturday night at Molineux, Manchester United and Wolverhampton Wanderers are left facing an FA Cup third-round replay that no one wants and, judging by this 0-0 draw, no one will want to see.
There were positives for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the most obvious being that a much-changed team did enough to get United into the hat for Monday's fourth-round draw and 19-year-old left-back Brandon Williams was impressive again.
But the obvious downside is that a squad already stretched to breaking point will have to negotiate an extra game in a packed January that already includes a two-legged Carabao Cup semifinal with Manchester City and a trip to Anfield to play Liverpool. Solskjaer chose to be positive about the prospect of his side playing eight games in the next 25 days.
"We had nine games in December so we might as well carry on," Solskjaer said. "That's just the schedule and we've got to accept it. I'm full of praise for the players, how they cope with it, so professional. All the sports science we do, that's a side not everybody sees.
"The game is faster now, more physical, more intensity, and once in a while you get a second half like we did today -- a bit jaded and tired," he continued. "But it's no problem. I don't worry about it, it's another game, we just have to train less."
Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo was less excited about the prospect of another fixture, suggesting afterward that he would have liked to see this game go "straight to penalties."
Solskjaer knows that, while his team are fifth in the Premier League table, he does not have the luxury of picking and choosing which matches to take more seriously and he will be relieved that he did not become the first manager since David Moyes in 2014 to lose in the third round.
The United manager was forced to pick what represented a reserve team for this tie, thanks to a combination of injuries, illness and a game against City 72 hours later.
Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay are sidelined with ankle and knee problems, respectively, while Luke Shaw, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial were struck down by illness on Friday. David de Gea, meanwhile, remained in Manchester and Marcus Rashford, Fred and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, sure starters against Pep Guardiola's side at Old Trafford on Tuesday, were left on the bench.
"Sergio was brilliant again," Solskjaer said. "He normally is. The goalkeeper situation is great because you have competition. We have two of the best keepers in the world and it's great for me. Brandon is giving me a nice decision to make. He did fantastic and he's improving day by day and he's always ready when called upon."
A member of United's staff joked with Solskjaer this week that, even after being nominated for December's Premier League manager of the month award, he still had found himself under pressure on Jan. 1 due to defeat at Arsenal.
It is, in part, the nature of the job at United, a club with such high expectations that they are never more than one bad result away from a full-blown crisis. However, it also says a lot about this team in particular: Brilliant against Tottenham and Manchester City in December, they have been beaten at Watford and Arsenal in recent weeks.
United are consistently inconsistent and, for the opening 45 minutes here, they had all the fluidity of an expired bottle of ketchup. The malaise was summed up in the final minute of the first half, when Williams smacked a pass off Daniel James' shins and the ball out for a throw-in. The travelling fans tucked away in the corner groaned, and not for the first time.
Despite his defensive position, Williams was often United's biggest attacking threat. He forced a VAR check after tumbling over in the penalty area under a clumsy challenge from Leander Dendoncker -- Michael Oliver upheld Paul Tierney's decision not to award a spot kick -- then the teenager sprinted 50 yards through the middle looking to collect Nemanja Matic's ball over the top.
Solskjaer's team had their best opportunities after the break; Juan Mata went close with a free kick that wrong-footed goalkeeper John Ruddy and Rashford saw a deflected shot hit the crossbar seconds after he came on.
Wolves could also have won it late on when another substitute, Raul Jimenez, hit the angle of the goal frame from close range. Doherty later had a goal disallowed after he headed the ball onto his arm and in.
"Marcus' [shot] is going in if [Conor] Coady's heel isn't there," Solskjaer said. "I think both teams could have won it."
This game marked the third time since the start of last year that United failed to register a shot on target -- it had not happened in a domestic game since 2015 -- which meant Solskjaer again had to answer questions about a lack of cutting edge.
Still, while another game without a goal is not ideal and a replay hardly desirable, both are preferable to another defeat and more questions about his job.