Sheffield United 1-0 Wolves: Egan makes mark in the battle for Europe
Sheffield United v Wolverhampton Wanderers - Premier League
SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND - JULY 08: John Egan of Sheffield United celebrates with his team after he scores his sides first goal during the Premier League match between Sheffield United and Wolverhampton Wanderers at Bramall Lane on July 08, 2020 in Sheffield, England. Football Stadiums around Europe remain empty due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in all fixtures being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

The illusive dream of Champions League qualification may have all but gone for both teams but with minds now focused on obtaining Europa League football for next season it was Sheffield United who dealt Wolverhampton Wanderers a telling blow in the final moments.

Although it was certainly not for the want of trying, both teams appeared to cancel each other out with similar formations and a lack of penetrative play inside the final third for the best part of the game, entering the closing quarter the Blades' extra desire to score the winning goal paid dividends as John Egan headed in from a corner.

Wolves, looking to bounce back from their defeat against Arsenal last weekend put a performance in that will have only added to their fans' ambitions of achieving a top five finish and will have surely highlighted the need for Nuno Espírito Santo to utilise his squad depth more.

As for the Blades, manager Chris Wilder will have been delighted to see his side recover from their immediate post-lockdown blues picking up seven points from their past three games reigniting their push for Europa League qualification. 

  • Story of the Game

The fixture was easily and deservedly perceived by the neutral as an exciting one, the return of two historic football clubs to the top tier with fresh and eye-opening styles of play and methods behind the scenes creating exciting memories for supporters. 

Tuning into this encounter, although there was plenty of grit and determination on show there was very little goalmouth action until the game's closing moments, Scottish striker Oliver McBurnie spurned Sheffield United's best chance of the first half glancing a header from an enticing cross by Enda Stevens on the left hand side harmlessly into the hands of Rui Patrício

Wolves' best chance was from a free kick twenty five yards out from goal, Portugal international Rúben Neves was inches away from adding to his collection of long-range goals as his shot looked to have beaten Dean Henderson in the Sheffield goal only for it to bounce off the top of the crossbar. 

The second half began with more purpose being shown by both teams, Wilder's decision early on to replace McBurnie with the former  AFC Bournemouth live-wire Lys Mousset enabled the Blades to sustain their attacks more with his runs into the channels creating more space for the hosts to exploit. 

Wolves' attacking endeavours suffered rapidly in the second half, a tired performance by their front three was epitomised as Raúl Jiménez sent an awfully attempted pass through to Adama Traoré comfortably out for a goal kick. 

As the final ten minutes approached, Wilder encouraged his team to flood bodies into the cross and their pressure paid off as Wolves failed to deal with a cross into the box in the final seconds almost leading to Ben Osborn prodding the ball home only for Patrício's scrambled dive enough to send it away for a corner.

In the final attacking phase of the game United flooded the box once more as Oliver Norwood's corner was powerfully met by Egan into the corner of the Wolves goal to cue joyous celebrations at Bramall Lane. 

  • Santo's lack of depth costs his side dearly 

 

One of the dominating statistics surrounding Wolves across the season is that they have used the least number of players (twenty) in the Premier League for the entire season, an even more astonishing statistic when you consider their Europa League exploits and the effects of Lockdown. 

Although the former may have given Santo reason to believe that his side would be able to handle the restart with a small number of players in the past two crunch matches they have looked lethargic, lacking imagination going forwards and committing uncharacteristic errors at the back. 

More alarming for Wolves fans will have been the absence of this being addressed in the midweek fixture, especially going forwards as Santo only made one substitution, bringing on holding midfielder Leander Dendoncker despite his team chasing all three points.

With the options of new attacking signings Daniel Podence and Leonardo Campana on the bench the performance of Traore and Jimenez in particular certainly suggested the substitutes would have brought more. 

Their Champions League aspirations surely look limited to winning the Europa League now in August, for the rest of the season the Wolves manager must find solutions quick if their season is to not fizzle out and miss out on European qualification altogether.

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