Wolves deserved victory for the finer moments of quality produced in their opening game of the new season, while Chris Wilder will have to wait until at least his 196th outing as Sheffield United manager for his 100th victory. On the evidence of this dour display, he needs to inject creativity or his team’s second season back in the top flight will be a struggle.
Nuno Espírito Santo, understandably, was left pleased with his Wolves side. “The players were amazing,” said the manager. “This is our first match and we [still] have many things to improve. We are going to challenge ourselves.”
Of the new contract he recently signed the Portuguese said: “It has been an amazing three seasons. I think we can create something really special. The identity, the core of the squad. We have to stay humble.”
Wilder, though, bemoaned United’s dismal beginning that had them 2-0 behind six minutes in. “To recover from as poor a start as I can remember here against Wolves it was always going to be a tough ask,” he said. “For 85 minutes it is nip and tuck, but it isn’t an 85-minute game is it? We have to move on. It hurts, of course it does, we didn’t want to get off to this start but the thing we have learned in the Premier League is that you have to get over disappointment quickly.”
The opener came when Daniel Podence broke along the left with no United defender near. In went the cross and Raúl Jiménez, too, had time to watch the ball bounce and fire past Aaron Ramsdale, the home goalkeeper. Next from a Pedro Neto corner on the left Wolves again struck too simply: Romain Saïss went unchallenged in a crowd of players, rising to head home.
Wilder’s side barely threatened before the interval. A Billy Sharp break was thwarted by Adama Traoré pulling him down. The referee, Mike Dean, gave the foul but no booking and Rui Patrício collected the ensuing free-kick.
Wolves’ ascendancy was encapsulated by Fernando Marçal nicking a pass aimed for Ollie Norwood to turn defence into attack. Later, when João Moutinho swung a dead ball into the area, United managed to clear but gold shirts kept roving at them. A Traoré throw-in led to a passing sequence before Jiménez once more let fly.
Better from United was an Enda Stevens delivery that had Wolves scrambling momentarily before Sharp was adjudged offside. Yet a hit‑and‑hope high ball was all United had offered so far, Chris Basham’s Hail Mary that forced Patrício to palm away from under his bar indicative of this.
When the second half began Stevens spurned a gilded chance when in on Patrício’s goal after Norwood’s dinked delivery, the left wing-back missing from close range.
United’s flakiness was soon evident again. From a Wolves corner on the right Saïss was once more allowed to rise unimpeded and there was relief his header went wide this time.
Wolves felt the same emotion when being carved open – via a low not high passing route – only for Sharp to turn the ball across and see John Lundstram lack the instinct to anticipate and thus convert. In central midfield Norwood was seeing greater possession, his probing causing Wolves concern. One move he initiated again had Sharp through along the left and turning the ball square at Oli McBurnie before Conor Coady cleared.
In the back-and-forth exchange the contest had become, Saïss’s shot was turned on to Ramsdale’s left post and Jiménez’s second attempt was off target. With 15 minutes left Wilder replaced Norwood with Sander Berge, which was a surprise considering the former’s influence. The move had little positive effect. Instead Lundstram went back to lifting the ball into Wolves’ area – defended easily – and first Traoré with a deflected attempt, then the impressive Jiménez with a header on to a post, nearly added a third.
Five points and two places separated these teams last season as Wolves finished in seventh with 59. Given this evidence there may well prove to be a greater gulf by the close of this campaign. Wilder now has to get his team back on track.