Against Liverpool, Shrewsbury and Bristol City, changes from the league side were minimal. Though Ruddy – one of those to have benefited from a chance in cup games – suggests that is more a reflection of the manager’s preference for a small squad: there are fewer players to be kept happy. That tightness of selection, he adds, creates a unity of spirit that helps against the top teams.
“A lot of it is the consistency within the group,” he says. “Having a small squad, but a squad of quality, no matter what opponent you’re coming up against, you always have that core group of players that know their roles down to a T. That’s been vital.”
Jota agrees. “Everyone this season has their chance to do something for the team, they know if they are not playing in this moment they could be in the next game. We have a small squad and everyone is important. Through the season nearly everyone has had their opportunity for the team.”
All the players seem aware, however, that the tie against United will test their big-game record to the limit. Not least because, Doherty points out, this is a very different United to the one against whom Wolves earned a point with a typically adroit 1-1 draw at Old Trafford in September.
“I thought it was going to be a lot tougher but they were going through a bit of a period where maybe they weren’t so happy,” he recalls. “You could definitely feel that there was tension in the stadium. But they’ve turned it around completely now, they’re a different club at the moment. They’re playing with a lot of freedom, a lot of speed on the counter-attack and a lot of confidence.”
The team on a roll against the team that rises to the occasion: this promises to be some encounter, one for which few would be certain enough to predict the outcome.