United’s name can now go alongside Manchester City and Chelsea as title contenders who have lost at the Black Country venue after Wolves bounced back from an early goal, then repelled a fierce second-half pummelling.
By the final whistle, the Red Devils had lost their cool, reduced to the desperation of Paul Scholes trying to push the ball into the net to salvage a point.
It did not work and Wolves were able to celebrate thanks to a George Elokobi header which levelled Nani’s third-minute opener and a winner whose scorer was disputed – Elokobi and Kevin Doyle both claimed to get the final tough to Nenad Milijas’ 40th-minute free-kick – but whose value was unquestioned.
Indeed, as the frenzied roar greeted the final whistle, it seemed somehow in keeping with an extraordinary day, that the top club should lose to the bottom, their lead at the top trimmed to four points over a team that themselves tossed away a four-goal lead.
Judging by the way they began, it seemed as though both Wolves and United had spent the afternoon watching the drama unfold elsewhere and wanted a piece of the action themselves.
Certainly there was precious little attention paid to the defensive side of the game as large holes appeared in midfield and both outfits flew forward at every opportunity.
Milijas had already narrowly failed with one effort before United went in front.
There appeared little danger when Nani collected possession on the right flank. But Elokobi relaxed for a moment, the Portugal winger stepped inside and then beat Wayne Hennessey at his near post with a shot the Wolves goalkeeper should have kept out.
Had Rooney not continued the improvement in goalscoring in evidence in midweek, the visitors might not have been caught.
Instead, he failed to get enough power behind his shot after Dimitar Berbatov had threaded through an excellent pass, allowing Hennessey to make the save.
Wolves made the most of their reprieve too.
Having lost Rio Ferdinand to an injury sustained in the warm-up, United’s defence was a touch short of the cohesion required.
And when the loose ball from a corner was shovelled back out to Matt Jarvis, Elokobi beat Nemanja Vidic to the cross and headed into the bottom corner.
What followed had the fans of both teams on their feet and the managers tearing their hair out.
Clear chances came and went at both ends with unstoppable regularity.
For Nani, Ryan Giggs and Berbatov at one end, read Kevin Doyle, Milijas and O’Hara at the other. O’Hara was denied by a superb feet-first save from Edwin van der Sar after he had tried his luck from an acute angle.
Wolves did not give up. And with United’s defence looking vulnerable, it was no surprise the hosts got their noses in front before the interval.
Milijas was the provider, floating an excellent free-kick deep into the United area. There was some confusion among the players over the identity of the scorer, although it went down as Doyle’s goal.
As the debate between Elokobi and Doyle raged after both claimed it, the unavoidable truth was that with the ball once again nestling in the bottom left-hand corner of Van der Sar’s goal, Wolves were ahead.
Ferguson made one change at half-time and two more midway through the second period after Scholes’ arrival had failed to trigger a comeback.
The exit of Berbatov was slightly surprising on two counts – first his goals, but also because Rooney was showing signs of blowing a fuse, his mood not helped by the booking he picked up for a late challenge on Ronald Zubar.
Rooney was one of many United players to turn away in disgust as Nani screwed a woeful shot wide.
It was an effort born out of pure frustration as Wolves defended tenaciously.
Christophe Berra threw himself in front of a Rooney blockbuster, emphasising the hosts’ fighting spirit.
United were increasingly desperate. Scholes’ act the ultimate admission of defeat.