Four and a half thousand Wolves fans were at Molineux to say goodbye to Nuno, two days after the surprise announcement this would be his last game in charge. Wolves were unable to give manager Nuno Espirito Santo the winning send-off they craved as they ended the Premier League season with defeat by Manchester United.
But United spoiled the send-off somewhat as they secured a win that ensures they have gone a full league season without losing an away game for the first time in their history. Anthony Elanga opened the scoring when he marked only his second Premier League start with a goal, powering home a header inside the first 15 minutes.
Wolves responded well, equalising five minutes before the break when Nelson Semedo scored his first goal for the club by sweeping in from Fabio Silva’s smart square ball. But United, who were already assured of second place before the game, reclaimed the lead on the stroke of half-time. Donny van de Beek was caught on the back of his foot by Romain Saiss, and after referee Mike Dean initially decided against awarding a penalty, he reversed his decision following a VAR review.
That left the home fans furious, with loud boos greeting the half-time whistle, and there was an added determination about Wolves’ play in the second half.
But despite plenty of possession they lacked quality in the final third – something that has plagued them all season, in no small part because of injuries to key players. Just 72 hours ago, the most notable thing for many Wolves fans thinking about this fixture will have been the return of supporters to Molineux.
But that all changed when it was announced Nuno’s four-year reign would come to an end after this game. Wolves have enjoyed some incredible highs under the Portuguese – winning the Championship with 99 points, successive top-seven finishes in the Premier League, and an incredible run to the quarter-finals of the Europa League.
And the appreciation for what Nuno has achieved was shown by those Wolves fans fortunate enough to have tickets. Supporters gathered outside to greet the team bus and cheer Nuno when he stepped off, and his name rang out around the ground as players and officials emerged from the tunnel before kick-off.
There were, however, some boos heard from the stands as the players took a knee ahead of kick-off. Once the game got underway it was soon clear the players were determined to put a show on for their departing manager, and Adama Traore flashed a shot wide inside the first two minutes.
But when Elanga struck and Traore went off injured, it appeared Nuno would not get the dream farewell. Semedo’s goal gave a glimmer of hope, but in the end it was not meant to be. Despite that, Nuno’s name was chanted long after the final whistle as the fans showed their appreciation to a manager who leaves them firmly established as a Premier League team.
The old and the new catch the eye
With second-place long since secured, United’s focus now is on Wednesday’s Europa League final against Villarreal. That was reflected in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team selection here, with only Axel Tuanzebe retaining his place in the starting XI and Dean Henderson handed the chance to potentially stake his claim for a place in goal in midweek.
But it was two of the fringe players that caught the eye. Elanga, who made his first Premier League start in the defeat by Leicester on 11 May, initially looked nervous and lacking in composure as he spurned two decent opportunities, but his goal was one of real quality as he thumped a header into the back of the net.
While Elanga is at the start of his United career, a player much nearer the other end of his also made his mark. Mata has made 271 appearances for United, but his seven-year association with the club could be coming to an end with his contract expiring this summer.
With Bruno Fernandes not included in the squad, it was Mata who stepped up take the decisive penalty, scoring in typically assured fashion. If this is to be his final Premier League game for United, the winning goal is a fitting send-off.
Man Utd join elite club – the stats
- United have become just the fourth side to remain unbeaten away from home across an entire English top-flight campaign (P19 W12 D7 L0), after Preston (1888-89), Arsenal (2001-02) and Arsenal again (2003-04).
- After winning four in a row between 2013-14 and 2016-17, Wolves have lost their past four games on the final day of a league season.
- Mata’s first Premier League goal in 29 appearances was United’s 10th goal from the penalty spot this season – the Red Devils’ joint-highest tally in a single Premier League campaign (also 10 in 2019-20).
- Elanga became the 19th different teenager to score a Premier League goal for United – only Arsenal (20) have had more in the competition’s history.
- Semedo became the third Portuguese player to score his first-ever Premier League goal against United, after Joao Moutinho in September 2018 and Cedric Soares in December 2018.
- Fernandes missed a Premier League game for the first time since signing for United, having appeared in each of the Red Devils’ 51 matches in the competition since making his debut on 1 February 2020.
Source – BBC News