“Sign him up, sign him up, sign him up!” You can almost hear the chants from the terraces. The name’s Jose, Willian Jose – GOAL MACHINE.
It wasn’t pretty, certainly no classic, but as Sheffield United fell into the relegation abyss, another three points in the bank for Wolves is what really mattered. In years to come, highlights packages from the 2020/21 campaign will be downloaded by sinister entities and used as elaborate torture devices to extract information.
Much like in the 1-0 win over Chorley -January 22, FA Cup Fourth Round- Wolves’ opponents on Saturday evening toiled hard, created chances and gave off a vibe of plucky underdogs doing better than expected.
Patronising that may be, the visitors are a team looking for any green shoots of hope as a long grind in the Championship awaits. Given the unorthodox nature of the current season (Covid – you might have heard of it) mid-table mediocrity is not the end of the world for any top seven aspirants.
‘Everyone at Wolves is baffled as to why it keeps happening’
Quietly seething on the sidelines, Nuno Espirito Santo seemed as bemused and puzzled as many watching at home over the reasons behind his side’s lacklustre first half display. Wolves’ stolid style once again strangled the life out of a game played against clearly poor opposition.
It’s a far cry from the swashbuckling days of old when Wolves would’ve comfortably and swiftly put such an outfit to the sword. That well-worn statement about the absent Reuben Neves being a free kick specialist is trudged out before every wayward set piece attempt. Similarly, the perplexity behind Wolves’ continuous inability to reach and remain in a higher gear is oft repeated by commentators.
Sheffield United woke Wolves up
It took an Enda Stevens miss to immediately wake the home side up. Good defending from Semedo led to a nifty turn around and a sporadic counter attack kicked in. Traore accelerated and Willian Jose tucked it away beautifully. Bang. First goal for Billy Joe and you couldn’t help but feel pleased for him.
It’s hard to know whether it was better or worse than the win at Fulham, but two 1-0 victories in a row will do nicely. Just don’t ask anyone to watch them back again.
Relegating the opposition becomes a thing
Ever since a 2-0 opening day loss to Wolves, the away side busied themselves trying to become the worst team in Premier League history. That dubious honour still belongs to Derby who ended the 2007/08 season with a measly 11 points.
United are now two points off Huddersfield’s 2018/19 total of 16. That number could’ve been even worse for Huddersfield had home and away wins over Wolves not provided six of those points and helped nudge them up and away from Derby’s inauspicious standing.
As match week gathered pace the prospect of being responsible for United’s relegation became an increasing source of excitement for a subset of supporters. In a dismal season, short on moments of inspiration, any feeling of superiority will do.
Sheffield United arrived low on confidence
As former Wolves striker Don Goodman explained on the Sky mic, Sheffield United arrived as a team low on confidence and demoralised, bottom of the league by a country mile.
Paul Heckingbottom’s men had also ditched their usual red and white stripes in favour of a washed-out pink number, reminiscent of a rogue red sock in the white load. Perhaps the unnecessary kit change would help them forget who they were for an evening.
That worked in spells, but it’s hard to see the door being smashed down for too many of their players come the summer. Understandably low on confidence, Rhian Brewster’s tagline as a striker would need to be investigated under the Trade Descriptions Act. Rarely has a player carrying such a heavy receipt offered so little.
Another young man carrying the weight of an inflated cost price, Fabio Silva, is the anti-Brewster. Rollocking forward with reckless abandon, only a late slip-slide on the turf halted his chance to replicate the sparkling West Ham finish.
Positives? There were a few. Semedo and Ait-Nouri both worked well down the flanks. The latter may have deemed himself fortunate to have got away with an “over the top” job on Brewster. Vitinha came on to show once again that the reputation and reality of his abilities are yet to align.
Wolves will take the three points and move on
For the final 20 minutes Wolves slumped back further into a defensive posture, almost willing The Blades to grab an equaliser – a scant moment of consolation to ease their pain on the long ride home.
Like an enthused parent rolling a fly-away football in front of their stumbling toddler, the men in Gold and Black stood back to offer the visitors a way back in to the game.
Courteous to their hosts, United politely refused. Leaving with nothing has become the norm. In a rotten season, Sheffield United continue to wallow in the swamp of the EPL’s all-time worst.
On a night when not much went right, be thankful that one side will travel to the likes of Luton, Millwall and Coventry next season, while the other will reset, rebuild and once again rub shoulders with the elite.
Steve Wellings is part of the Talking Wolves editorial team