Wolves were overcome by a youthful Manchester United side as they bid farewell to their departing manager Nuno Espirito Santo.
Antony Elanga gave the visitors the lead with a bullet header from 12 yards, but the lead was cancelled out by Nelson Semedo who poked home from Fabio Silva’s pass.
United retook the lead on the brink of half-time as Juan Mata converted a controversial penalty, and it proved to be the decisive goal.
This match was always going to be the backdrop to what was an emotional farewell to a coach who has transformed the club over his four year tenure. Nuno was greeted by hundreds of fans as he said goodbye to the city that has welcomed him with open arms, and it proved to be as emotional as we thought it would be.
However, there was a game to be played, and Nuno went with his tried and trusted five at the back with a midfield trio and two up top. Underperforming players Joao Moutinho and Leander Dendoncker started with Ruben Neves, whilst the usual back three of Conor Coady, Romain Saiss and Willy Boly kept their places. Rayan Ait-Nouri played what could be his last game for Wolves should they decide not to take up their permanent option to buy.
Fabio Silva and Adama Traore were tasked with providing the creative output, and the latter did what he needed. Traore opened up the game only four minutes in when he burst past several United defenders before putting his shot wide of the post. Young Brandon Williams, who has previously performed well against the Spaniard, couldn’t get close to him and this allowed Wolves to create space in behind and look dangerous.
The danger wasn’t able yield results however, as Wolves fell behind early on yet again this season on 13 minutes. A cross from the right-hand side beat the back three, and 19-year-old Elanga peeled off Ait-Nouri to power home a header for his first ever Premier League goal. The goal was indicative of the issues Wolves have had aerially this season and it was again frustrating to see a lack of learning from their mistakes as the centre-backs were sluggish to close out any chance of an effort on goal.
Soon after going behind, things went from bad to worse as Traore had to be taken off with what looked like a hamstring issue – not the first injury woe Wolves have had this season. Willian Jose came on to replace him and it looked drab for a team that has struggled in front of goal this season.
Fortunately for the side, there was still some good football left in the tank as they were able to combine the midfield and forward lines effectively to draw level. Dendoncker made rare use of his physical stature to burst through midfield after a lovely Moutinho flick, he then played the ball on for Fabio Silva who placed an excellent ball across the box and Nelson Semedo was there to side foot home his first of the season 39 minutes in.
The game ended up being an even contest after the equaliser, but Rui Patricio still had to stay alive as he made a sharp save at his near post to deny United a second. The goal wasn’t to be denied though as Mike Dean controversially awarded a penalty to the away side in added time of the first half after Saiss was adjudged to have tripped Donny Van De Beek. Juan Mata confidently dispatched the spot kick and it was back to the drawing board for Wolves at the break.
The second half proved to be a real stalemate yet again as Wolves found it difficult to break down United’s defence, either through the wide/inside channels and centrally. Willian Jose was proving to be as ineffective as ever and Silva couldn’t find much service to play off. The Red Devils could and should have added a third when Dan James was sent clean through on goal, but his poor attempt at a chipped finish bounced well wide of the net.
United’s young side were able to hold on to all three points despite some late pressure from Wolves which saw the midfield push up and Morgan Gibbs-White added centrally to add some creative flair.
It wasn’t the way Nuno would have wanted to bow out, but it’s a result which summarises the season and shows why Fosun have been looking for a new direction heading into next season.
The scenes at full-time were incredible, as Nuno was given a true lap of honour with fans belting out the famous ‘Nuno had a dream’ and lauding him with the loudest cheers and applause heard at Molineux in over a year. It showed how he is a manager that has connected an entire city and has been a stellar person and gentleman throughout his whole tenure. The eloquence of his quotes, the memories of Europe and off the field connections were all symbolised in what was a magical moment for him and his coaching staff.
He was given a guard of honour by his players and looked on with teary eyes as he left the pitch for the final time. A fitting farewell for the best Wolves manager of a generation.
The club now look on to an enormous summer which will show what Fosun have outlined for next season. The next managerial appointment is expected to be swift, but no matter who they are, they will be backed by a full house at Molineux next season, with fans ready to see a rejuvenated squad that can push up the league and build on from the foundations built by Nuno.