Unfortunately, it may be the first of many to come for Chris Wilder.
Sheffield United have now broken QPR’s record for the most Premier League games without a win since the beginning of the season with the loss to Crystal Palace after Jeffrey Schlupp’s early goal and a brilliant save from Ebere Eze.
The run of 17 matches never seemed to end and their manager acknowledged that they have a tough task ahead of them with only two points and the season almost at the halfway point to avoid replacing Derby 2007/08 with 11 points as the worst team in Premier League history.
“We’re disappointed again – it’s a tough league to be in if you don’t get results because there’s no hiding place,” he said. “Our naivete gave us a mountain to climb.”
Instead of nine, Wilder was only able to name six replacements because nine players were injured or unavailable because of Covid.
Before kickoff, news emerged that at a New Year’s Eve party with his Serbian teammate Aleksandar Mitrovic of Fulham, Palace were investigating an Instagram video that appeared to show Luka Milivojevic breaching social distancing laws. Nonetheless, the Palace captain was called into the starting lineup, with Roy Hodgson later condemning his conduct amid negative tests by both players. “He has to take responsibility and it will be dealt with internally,” he said.
Initially, Eze was just back on the bench, but it took Palace three minutes to make the breakthrough.
Andros Townsend was the architect of a flowing move that saw Wilfried Zaha feed Christian Benteke on the box’s edge, whose passage was deflected into Schlupp’s direction and, thanks to another deflection, his finish ended up in the net.
It was the kind of bad luck in the relegation zone that normally afflicts teams, but a far cry from the two 1-0 wins Sheffield United posted last season against Palace on their way to ninth position.
On the opening day of the season, the visitors, who had scored just eight league goals all season, seemed unlikely to break a defense that had kept its last clean sheet.
After Schlupp had to be substituted with a suspected hamstring injury, Hodgson replaced Eze just before halftime.
A concentration lapse by replacement Eze allowed Sheffield United to take their first shot on target, but Vicente Guaita easily saved Jayden Bogle’s shot.
When Eze picked up the ball deep in his own half, ten seconds of the five-minute stop time, scheduled primarily because of Schlupp’s injury, elapsed. Until curling a superb shot into the corner, the England Under-21 international put the ball past Ollie Norwood and comfortably got the better of Ethan Ampadu.
He said, “I just saw a lot of space and thought I could take the chance,”
It was a goal of pure instinct, but as the players left the field for halftime, Hodgson still found time to pick Eze up and give him some advice.
Even Benteke’s injury at the beginning of the second half, with Townsend a constant threat, did little to alter Palace’s supremacy. He was expected to finish the game with a third goal, while Wilder replaced Rhian Brewster and Antwoine Hackford – the second youngest player in the club’s history at 16 years and 288 days – to turn the game around.
Palace claimed their first win since beating West Brom a month ago, a block from James Tomkins to keep Hackford from scoring ensured. What Wilder is going to give for just one win.