Sheffield United equalled the earliest relegation from the Premier League as their demotion was confirmed following Willian Jose’s first goal for Wolves.
This ninth defeat in 10 league games mean United depart for the Championship with six games remaining, the same as Huddersfield Town two years ago and Derby County in 2007/08, after Willian converted in the second half for the first time in his 12th game for Wolves.
United fought to the end, and had the better chances of a low-quality game, but their year of misery was compounded when Wolves broke to score just after Enda Stevens had had the clearest chance of the game.
Wolves’ win at Fulham eight nights previously had given them the breathing space to no longer be considered part of any relegation battle. With Pedro Neto joining Jonny Otto in need of knee surgery and Rúben Neves missing in Covid isolation, this is no little relief for Wolves fans.
Newcastle’s win over West Ham earlier in the day however meant that Sheffield United knew defeat here would confirm their relegation. After seven defeats in their previous eight games, and a raft of potential unwanted records, their demotion has been a long time coming but in many ways that meant the pressure was off.
In an even first half, Oliver Norwood did well to head Willy Boly’s deflected backheel against the underside of the crossbar in Wolves’ best chance after Willian José chested the ball down for the Ivory Coast defender, up for a corner.
John Fleck, at the culmination of a fluent United build-up, dispatched a rising snorter of a shot just over the crossbar at the other end.
Wolves were fortunate not to be reduced to ten men nine minutes before the interval however. Rayan Aït-Nouri and Rhian Brewster both went over the top of the ball as they went for a 50/50 but, while the former Liverpool striker was cautioned for his lunge, replays suggested the Wolves left-back had trodden on his opponent’s ankle.
United chairman Prince Musaad Bin Khalid Al Saud, the son-in-law of club owner Prince Abdullah bin Mosa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, had resigned for personal reasons on the eve of the game but it is not thought this would make any difference to the day-by-day running of the club.
Paul Heckingbottom remains in interim charge in the dugout, having overseen four defeats since Chris Wilder’s acrimonious departure, but behind the scenes there is a sense of drift with decisions over next season still to be discussed despite the inevitability of United’s status.
Wolves have some serious questions to consider over the coming summer.
The absence since November of Raúl Jiménez, not only their leading goalscorer but also most pivotal attacker, with a fractured skull has highlighted an over-reliance on the Mexican and neither Fabio Silva, the £35 million 18-year-old, nor Willian José, on loan from Real Sociedad, have convinced in his absence.
Willian has impressed with his build-up play but had barely looked like scoring until last week. His disallowed header at Craven Cottage came after Daniel Podence’s t-shirt trim was adjudged beyond that of the last defender in the approach but, against the league’s bottom club, finally he had his goal.
It actually came from United’s best chance. Brewster got away down the right channel and pulled his cross back for Stevens to arrive and shoot from just inside the penalty area.
Nélson Semedo blocked and then played intelligently out towards Leander Dendoncker. When Adama Traoré was released, the pacy winger flew up the flank before crossing low for Willian José to clip into the goal.
Stevens also came close to equalising in the 70th minute when he span away from Dendoncker on the right edge of the penalty area before sending in such a fierce shot that it was difficult to detect Rui Patricio’s superb fingertip save.