Sports Editor Kit Shepard reports from Molineux, where Wolves were forced to come from behind to gain a point against Sheffield United
Wolves stretched their unbeaten run in the Premier League to nine games after a 1-1 draw with Sheffield United at Molineux last Sunday.
Lys Mousset put the Blades in front in the second minute with an assured touch and finish, and Sheffield United fashioned the better chances throughout the game.
However, they were punished for their lack of ruthlessness when Matt Doherty equalised midway through the second half, earning a point for Wolves at the end of a week in which they travelled to Braga in the Europa League on Thursday.
Manager Nuno Espirito Santo emphasised the challenges of playing in multiple competitions, saying ‘we play on Thursday, a very tough game against a Portuguese team that has a profile of players, they play short Brazilian players, so it is a challenge for us that we go from Thursday to compete against Sheffield United with this intensity and this direct football, so trying to grow through the competitions is the big challenge we have’.
Indeed, the Molineux faithful barely had a chance to digest their pre-match pies before they saw their team go behind. Just over a minute, 63 seconds to be precise, had been played when Mousset put the visitors ahead with his fourth goal in six league games, finishing with his left foot after controlling George Baldock’s cross well. The build-up was neat and the finish clinical, but the opening came all too easily from the hosts’ perspective.
This stunning start was seemingly not enough of a wake-up call for Wolves, who barely had a kick in the Sheffield United half in the opening minutes. Santo’s men were uncharacteristically sloppy in possession, perhaps feeling the effects of the midweek trip to Portugal, and were only let off the hook by the Blades’ wayward passing in the final third.
Wolves did grow into the game, creating their first chance just before the quarter-hour mark, with Jimenez forcing Dean Henderson into an excellent save after he met a Doherty cross with a powerful header. Max Kilman, making his full Premier League debut, was solid in the Wolves defence.
Yet although Wolves had a comfortable advantage in the possession statistics it was a brief VAR check, which quickly proved that no Blades player had handled from a Moutinho corner, that was the closest they came to a clear-cut opportunity before the break.
Chris Wilder’s men were showing why they have not lost on their travels in the league this season. They defended with discipline, content to spend long stretches without the ball, but were also willing to push plenty of men forward whenever they won it back. This formula nearly doubled their lead, but neither John Egan nor Enda Stevens could capitalise after getting good sights of goal in the final ten minutes before half-time.
The second period almost began in an identical fashion to the first. Mousset chested the ball into the path of David McGoldrick, but the striker squandered a golden opportunity to make it two within a minute of the restart, firing a low shot straight at a diving Rui Patricio from well inside the box.
Five minutes later, in what was an even better chance, McGoldrick once again was denied by Patricio after being played in by John Fleck. Continuing the theme of replicating the first half, Wolves gave the ball away cheaply, while Sheffield United could not make that decisive pass.
And the Blades were made to pay for their wastefulness. With just over an hour played, Doherty, popping up uncharacteristically on the left, headed home Jimenez’s cross from close range. The Irishman was visibly emotional in his celebration, kissing his black armband in tribute to former Wolves striker Benik Afobe, whose two-year-old daughter tragically passed away ahead of kick-off.
One would have expected that Wolves, as the home side, would take charge and push for a winner against a newly-promoted outfit, but Sheffield United have been defying conventional wisdom all season. McGoldrick, in what was virtually his last action before being substituted on a forgettable afternoon for him, glanced inches wide from Norwood’s free-kick, then nobody could get on the end of a low cross from Stevens which flashed across the six-yard box.
Inevitably, as the clock edged towards 90, Wolves cranked up the pressure. However, in that defensive shape again, the away team held firm, although Baldock was fortunate not receive a second yellow. Curiously, Santo did not make any substitutions.
‘We must recover well’, insisted the Portuguese manager on the matter of fatigue. ‘Long way to go yet’.
Last-ditch was seldom required for United and when they did need it, the execution was superb. Nevertheless, Santo will undoubtedly be disappointed that his team could not create more in the closing stages, as they were forced to settle for speculative shots from distance.
Instead, the best chance for a winner fell to Blades substitute Oliver McBurnie, who could not get quite enough contact on a close-range header in injury time.
Neither side will be distraught or ecstatic with their point. They each establish themselves in the top half in the table (Wolves in sixth, Sheffield United in seventh) but will both feel a win was there for the taking; Sheffield United will rue the missed chances at the start of both halves, while Wolves will feel the game was their’s to win once Doherty had equalised.
Blades boss Chris Wilder epitomised the mood after the game, where he expressed his mixed emotions: ‘You have to put teams to bed and we didn’t’, the 52-year-old said. ‘The game could have gone either way and possibly [in the] last ten minutes they [Wolves] might have been disappointed not to win it’.
‘It’s been a good afternoon for us’, admitted Wilder, who will surely be focusing on the bigger picture despite dropping two attainable points. ‘You can’t be too greedy’.
Wolves (3-4-2-1): Patricio; Dendoncker, Coady (C), Kilman; Doherty, Moutinho, Neves, Jonny; Traore, Jota; Jimenez.
Sheffield United (3-5-2): Henderson; Basham, Egan, O’Connell; Baldock, Lundstrum (Freeman, 90+1), Norwood (C), Fleck, Stevens; McGoldrick (McBurnie, 73), Mousset (Robinson, 86).
Referee: David Coote
Bookings: Dendoncker; Stevens, Fleck, Baldock, O’Connell, Egan.