Sheffield United have spent the summer damaging the challengers' chances of Champions League football. If their own disappeared in June, beating Tottenham last week all but ensured Jose Mourinho will not record a top-four finish.
Now Wolves became the latest to experience disappointment at Bramall Lane. They could have gone level on points with Manchester United. Instead, they were defeated by John Egan’s injury-time header as Chris Wilder’s team leapfrogged both Arsenal and Spurs. Beaten by Arsenal on Saturday, Nuno Espirito Santo’s side suffered another setback.
Even a stalemate had felt inadequate. Not for the first time, Wolves felt insufficiently ambitious. They removed Adama Traore when looking for a winner and Sheffield United’s persistence brought one: George Baldock headed the replacement Richairo Zivkovic’s cross wide and Rui Patricio clawed away Ben Osborn’s injury-time shot.
From Oliver Norwood’s resulting corner, Egan leapt above Willy Boly to score for the second successive game.
Wolves have a habit of ending strongly, but not this time. It is one of the season’s minor mysteries that they have contrived to challenge for the top four while having the worst record in the first half.
They tend to be cautious starters, which ultimately cost them against Arsenal on Saturday. If their preference is to take their time to settle into a game, at least this time they almost found the target.
Ruben Neves’ goals invariably come from long range and he almost added another to a distinguished collection. His 20-yard free kick flicked Dean Henderson’s bar on its way over.
It was as close as they came. If Nuno erred by beginning with Diogo Jota on the bench against Arsenal, he sought to avert a repeat by restoring the forward to the side.
Bright as the Portuguese was, the attention was often occupied by the other winger. Wolves had an early worry when Traore went down clutching the shoulder he has dislocated three times after a collision with Enda Stevens.
The winger caused United a different kind of concern that Raul Jimenez met yet, as he closed in on goal, an unusually poor touch allowed Baldock to cover. Traore’s threat means some look to stop him at source and Stevens became the 34th player booked for fouling him in a last-ditch attempt to halt a counter-attack.
But by and large United coped well. They had attacking threats of their own on the flanks. They might have claimed more summer points had Jack O’Connell not been accidentally injured by Henderson in training. The famously overlapping centre-back made his first start since then and showed his crossing ability by picking out Oli McBurnie, whose header was too near Rui Patricio.
The hosts’ other first-half chance was gifted by their visitors. Willy Boly allowed Billy Sharp to nip on to his under-hit back pass but Patricio was quick to leave his line to block the shot. Sharp did manage to beat the goalkeeper later, following a fine turn and finish, but he had long since been flagged offside.
While other clubs have relished being able to name nine substitutes, United’s bench is rarely that packed. Once again, Wilder only had eight at his disposal. Lys Mousset was summoned when he took off the in-form McBurnie early in the second half and Zivkovic got just a third outing of his loan spell.
They applied pressure for spells of the second half. Stevens provided some enticing crosses from the left flank while Sander Berge continued the fine form he has shown over the past fortnight. Wolves, who were looking to record four straight away wins in the top flight for the first time in four decades, were instead beaten.