Paul Scholes' 100th Premier League goal was enough for Manchester United to leapfrog back to into top spot.
Scholes settled a tense encounter with Wolves at Molineux 17 minutes from time, when he kept a cool head to beat Marcus Hahnemann after Jody Craddock's clearance had fallen nicely for the veteran midfielder.
Sir Alex Ferguson will hope the goal helps persuade Scholes to sign a one-year contract extension he is presently stalling over.
However, Ferguson will also be fretting on the fitness of Wayne Rooney after watching Sam Vokes waste a glorious chance to equalise in stoppage time.
There have been consistent claims that Rooney has been carrying United this season and this was a chance for his team-mates to prove otherwise, as the England ace did not even make the bench, his manager rating his talisman "a big doubt" to face AC Milan on Wednesday.
Instead, their efforts merely confirmed the view.
Isolated up front, Dimitar Berbatov failed to get involved as Rooney would have done. After a three-match ban, Nani appeared to have regressed to his maddening form of old and Antonio Valencia was not his usual self out wide.
Darron Gibson was the only United player to threaten the Wolves goal but his best effort was the shot he prodded wide after a poor Nani free-kick had bounced into his path off Berbatov.
It was Wolves who carried the greater threat.
Having angered the Premier League with his team selection at Old Trafford in the reverse fixture last December, there was never a chance of Mick McCarthy leaving players out this time.
United might have been aiming for top spot but they have hardly been convincing this term and on their previous visits to newly-promoted clubs were beaten at Burnley and only drew at Birmingham.
Former Red Devil David Jones was set up by Matt Jarvis following a forceful run from the excellent Kevin Doyle and might have tested Edwin van der Sar had it not been for Michael Carrick's saving tackle.
Stephen Ward had the golden opportunity though. Jarvis was again the provider, after darting down the right on the overlap. His deep cross found Ward completely unmarked and he only had to beat Edwin Van der Sar to score but he nodded tamely straight at the veteran Dutchman.
The introduction of Gary Neville at the break might not have been an obvious attacking move but the experienced full-back helped his side get a measure of control for the first time.
Patrice Evra and Michael Carrick both had chances and Jody Craddock also needed to act fast to rob Berbatov after Wolves had got their offside trap all wrong as they attempted to defend a Carrick cross.
Ferguson was then deeply unhappy at Nani being flattened by Jody Craddock as he raced forward trying to support Valencia, who had galloped down the right.
Jarvis flashed a shot wide after cutting in from the left flank and Nemanja Vidic was booked for chopping down Karl Henry.
But United finally got on top and Scholes they have a player who will be remembered years from now, for both invention and goals.
Finding the net may have been a problem in recent seasons for the midfielder but this term there have been signs of that old instinct returning.
And when Craddock drilled Nani's low cross straight to the former England man he had the common sense not to rush, instead nipping past the defender's desperate lunge before drilling his shot into the far corner.
It brought up his century of Premier League goals and his 148th overall for United.
Far more importantly, it left them staring down at their rivals from that familiar position on the Premier League summit.
Mame Biram Diouf could not add to the lead when he failed to find the target with a free header.
And United breathed a collective sigh of relief when Vokes slashed high over the top when he should have scored and headed narrowly wide soon after before the whistle confirmed the champions had reclaimed first place.
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