Sheffield United players fight among themselves in defeat at Wolves



Sheffield United players fight among themselves in defeat at Wolves

When Gary O’Neil arrived at Wolves four days before the start of the Premier League after Julen Lopetegui’s shock resignation, many were expecting Molineux to be the stage for a lengthy battle for survival. Wolves have, however, confounded expectations, securing their 11th win of the season – a tally no team have been relegated with in a 38-game season – thanks to Pablo Sarabia’s goal against a feisty Sheffield United.

Relegation is an inevitability for Chris Wilder’s side after a 19th defeat of the season. They had more than enough chances to secure a point but were unable to take any and their most notable involvement led to a VAR review for a red card after teammates Jack Robinson and Vinícius Souza clashed, resulting in them butting heads before pushing and shoving. Although no action was taken it offered an insight into the frustrating nature of United’s season.

Wolves must have expected the margin of victory to have been greater against the team who have conceded the most and scored the fewest but United will be irked by their inability to secure a point, which allowed the hosts to move up to eighth. Wolves were the better team in the first half, dominating possession and controlling play but the Blades were effective on the counterattack, creating two one-on-one situations which Rhian Brewster and James McAtee were unable to convert.

Brewster was recalled to the starting lineup but it became clear why the club’s record signing had scored five goals in his previous 73 appearances. A long Robinson throw reached him at the back post, his first shot was blocked by Craig Dawson and the second was palmed clear by José Sá to offer some hope that the visitors were part of the contest.

Wolves seemed a little unnerved by having all the possession, given they normally wait to counter. Pedro Neto looked the most likely to inspire a goal but when the opener came from the left on the half hour it was Rayan Aït-Nouri who cut inside to clip a cross into the box that an unmarked Sarabia was allowed to flick home. It was all far too easy, potentially leading to the flashpoint seven minutes later between Souza and Robinson.

“It is a fantastic goal,” O’Neil said. “You would not believe how many times we work on those situations with Rayan and Pablo, sometimes the other way round. Pablo’s timing of run and the area he arrives in is not down to luck, we work extremely hard on it.”

O’Neil joined after Rúben Neves was sold and then had to witness Matheus Nunes head to Manchester City. Wolves earned more than £100m from the sales but have relied on cheaper replacements and those already in the building. Mario Lemina was a key figure in central midfield, bringing control in the first half and resilience in the second when United were on top.

Vinícius Souza and Jack Robinson of Sheffield United exchanged fisticuffs on the field. Photograph: SportImage/Getty Images

The victory leaves Wolves one point off a European place, a surprising outcome considering the early season doubts. “At this stage of the season, you would probably expect to be under different pressures and that game against Sheffield United could be a six-pointer,” O’Neil said. “The second-half performance gets us nowhere near Europe. We have to definitely improve. The lads have done incredibly well, they get massive respect and credit from me. The amount of games they have won, the togetherness they’ve shown and the quality they’ve shown at times. We didn’t expect to be pushing for Europe but if other people want to talk about that it’s fine.”


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