Match Report: Wolves 3, Sheffield United 0

It might, as Chris Wilder insisted ahead of kick-off, take more than money to win a game of football.

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 3rd February 2018, 7:18 pm
Updated Saturday, 3rd February 2018, 7:21 pm
Wolves v Blades
Wolves v Blades

But, against a Sheffield United side reduced to 10 men when Simon Moore was dismissed during the closing stages, it took Wolverhampton Wanderers less than half an hour to illustrate the calibre of player it can buy.

Ruben Neves and Diogo Jota, signed for £15.8m and £12.3m apiece, effectively settled this fixture between the Championship leaders and Wilder's eighth placed side with two memorable goals in the sixth and 30th minutes. Ivan Cavaleiro stretched Wolves' advantage with a deflected free-kick after Moore had seen red for a challenge on Diogo.

"Sometimes, you've just got to say you've been better by the better side," Wilder said. "We don't have to like it or enjoy saying it but they, Wolves, are the best I've seen in this division for quite some time."

Neves, previously of Porto and a senior Portugal international, laid the platform for Wolves' latest victory of the season before Diogo, whose loan from Atlético Madrid will be made permanent at the end of the campaign, ensured United would return home having won only once in six league outings.

If the latter's effort was intricate - Matt Doherty, Helder Costa and Ivan Cavaleiro dragging the visitors' rearguard out of position with some quick-fire passes - Neves' contribution was an audacious hammer blow. Simon Moore flung himself through the air in a desperate attempt to get something on the ball.

But, as it looped through the air before changing trajectory at exactly the right moment, it became obvious the goalkeeper was absolutely powerless. Likewise Jake Eastwood, whose first task was to pick the ball out of the net when Caveleiro's 76th minute set-piece sneaked home.

With Jamal Blackman still nursing a groin injury, the youngster is now expected to start next Saturday's Yorkshire derby against Leeds.

"We'll see how Jamal is," Wilder continued. "The sending-off gave us no opportunity late in the day."

Despite the difference in league position and spending power, United entered this game in confident mood after, as Wilder reminded on numerous occasions beforehand, beating Wolves at Bramall Lane earlier this term. Although his pep-talk also came with a caveat - "They had a man sent-off so that obviously made a difference" - Conor Coady's dismissal came about due to pressure, not refereeing error.

Espirito Santo, Wilder's rival across the technical area, used his programme notes to deliver a similarly respectful message.

"Having faced them already this season...we know how tough a test this evening's game will be. I can assure you though," the Portguese told supporters, "that we have prepared thoroughly."

So neither will have been surprised to see both sides forge promising positions during the opening three minutes although it was Wolves, when a second presented itself, who made the chance pay. Ricky Holmes, making his full debut for United after arriving from Charlton Athletic last month, underlined his desire to make a good impression with a driving run and cross which just evaded Leon Clarke before Costa, picked out by Cavaleiro, flashed wide of the far post.

But Neves, the hosts' record signing, underlined his class by curling a superb long-range shot past a despairing Moore and into the back of the net. Wilder might have reservations about the time and space the midfielder was afforded but it was impossible not to admire the sheer quality of the strike.

Falling behind after just six minutes did not, for obvious reasons, feature on United's gameplan. They prevented Wolves from building up another head of steam, with Holmes seemingly intent on covering every blade of grass on the pitch, but failed to trouble John Ruddy until the goalkeeper nearly got himself into a mess after being hunted down by Clarke.

On the half hour mark, however, Wolves' ability on the ball paid dividends again when Diogo converted from close range after United's defence was pulled this way and that by an incisive interchange. Down on the touchline, Wilder wheeled away in frustration while Espirito Santo hugged his coaching staff in a delerious embrace.

Clearly, he thought the result was now a formaility. It was when, after Moore had received his marching orders, Cavaleiro's shot wrong-footed Eastwood.

Wolverhampton Wanderers: Ruddy, Doherty, Douglas, N'Diaye, Bennett, Cavaleiro (Afobe 77), Neves, Boly, Coady, Costa (Bonatini 65), Diogo (Gibbs-White 81). Not used: Norris, Batth, Enobakhare, Hause.

Sheffield United: Moore, Baldock, Stevens, Fleck, O'Connell, Basham (Donaldson 70), Clarke, Wilson (Eastwood 76), Stearman, Evans, Holmes (Leonard 70). Not used: Lundstram, Sharp, Duffy, Lafferty.

Referee: Darren Bond (Lancashire).

Attendance: 29,311.