Premier League: Manchester United's top-four hopes take a hit with defeat against Wolves; Fulham's relegation confirmed
Ashley Young's needless dismissal and Chris Smalling's farcical own goal sent Manchester United crashing to a damaging 2-1 defeat against Wolves on Tuesday.
Wolverhampton: Ashley Young's needless dismissal and Chris Smalling's farcical own goal sent Manchester United crashing to a damaging 2-1 defeat against Wolves on Tuesday.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side blew a chance to move into third place in the Premier League as they squandered the lead in a disappointing display at Molineux.
United remain fifth, but their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League via a top-four finish will be further dented if Tottenham and Chelsea win on Wednesday.
It was a frustrating night for Solskjaer, who saw United suffer a third defeat in their last four games — underlining how much work the Norwegian still has in front of him following his appointment as permanent manager last week.
Scott McTominay's first goal for United was negated by Diogo Jota before the interval, but the game's turning point proved to be a second yellow card collected by Young with just 57 minutes gone.
United finally caved to Wolves' pressure 20 minutes later, when Raul Jimenez rose above Phil Jones and headed a Joao Moutinho cross goalwards.
The awkward attempt saw Smalling and goalkeeper David de Gea become entangled, with the former making the final touch as the ball rolled over the line.
McTominay's memorable first ever goal in professional football had come after just 13 minutes and a solid, controlled start by Solskjaer's team.
A patient left-wing build-up ended with Jesse Lingard playing the ball centrally to Fred, with the Brazilian quickly moving it sideways to Scotland international McTominay.
The 22-year-old unleashed a brilliant, right-foot finish from 25 yards that beat the diving Rui Patricio and nestled in the far left-hand corner.
It might have been an even healthier position a few moments later, but Romelu Lukaku impeded McTominay as his team-mate lined up another shot from similar range.
But with Wolves' defence looking curiously disorganised, there was still an opportunity for Lukaku to chip in a dangerous centre for Lingard, whose close-range header was pawed away to safety by Patricio.
The goal lead was just reward for a strong start by United, with Lingard surging forward directly from kick-off and unleashing the game's first shot with just five seconds gone.
There was also a promising attack which saw Fred spray the ball wide to Diogo Dalot whose hanging cross found Lukaku, only for the Belgian to guide his header directly at the keeper from six yards.
However, United succumbed to the first period of pressure placed upon them by the home side, who had already beaten them in the FA Cup just weeks ago.
First, an unfortunate rebound off Dalot allowed Willy Boly to play through Jimenez who hurried a 24th-minute shot.
Just seconds later, United were not so lucky after a poor clearance from De Gea, and even worse control by Fred, saw him lose the ball to Moutinho with Jimenez pouncing on it and playing in Jota.
The Portuguese forward did not need a second invitation to advance and calmly beat De Gea for the equaliser.
United looked shaken and an error by Luke Shaw, in mis-directing a header, soon played in Matt Doherty, who pulled the ball back for Leo Dendoncker to blaze over from the corner of the six-yard area.
United threatened after the restart, with a Lukaku cross flicked on by Paul Pogba for McTominay, who stooped low and saw his diving header well saved by the outstretched hand of Patricio.
But United's task was hardly made easier when Young collected two yellow cards in the space of five minutes for fouls on Jota, the second after a particularly unpleasant high challenge.
As Wolves fans, warming up for Sunday's FA Cup semi-final with Watford, celebrated their impending victory, substitute Ivan Cavaleiro almost made it three when he struck the crossbar in stoppage-time.
Fulham were relegated from the Premier League as a 4-1 thrashing against Watford on Tuesday brought a fitting end to their turbulent one-season stay in the top flight.
Scott Parker's side had to avoid defeat at Vicarage Road to stave off their inevitable demise for a few more days.
But second-bottom Fulham, 16 points from safety with five games remaining, slumped to a ninth successive loss that confirmed their relegation to the Championship.
Abdoulaye Doucoure put Watford ahead in the 23rd minute before Ryan Babel's equaliser 10 minutes later briefly gave Fulham hope.
Fulham's fate was sealed in the second half when Will Hughes, Troy Deeney and Kiko Femenia all netted for Javi Gracia's men in the space of 12 minutes.
"Obviously bitterly disappointed, devastated for the football club and fans," Parker said.
"We always knew it was a tough ask. It's the way we lost the game which was most disappointing for me.
"The five or 10-minute spell from 2-1 onwards, that was our season in a snapshot.
"We played some nice bits at times, but at the end of the day you are where you are."
On Saturday, bottom-of-the-table Huddersfield became only the second team after Derby in 2008 to be relegated from the Premier League in March with six games left.
Three days later, Fulham followed Huddersfield through the trapdoor in what ranks as the third earliest relegation in the Premier League era.
Despite a close-season investment of over £100 million ($131 million) on new signings -- the most ever spent by a promoted Premier League club — the Cottagers went down with a whimper.
"When a club gets relegated you know there are some serious issues. I have ideas, but it's not the time to broadcast it," Parker said.
"The team owe it to the football club and fans to go out in the last five games and give something back, although it'll be very little. The next five games, we will crack on."
Fulham have lost all five matches under caretaker manager Parker, but they were already destined for relegation long before he took over as the club's third boss this term.
Slavisa Jokanovic was sacked in November as Fulham owner Shahid Khan tried to lift his team out of their wretched run.
But his replacement Claudio Ranieri fared even worse and was axed in February after Fulham fans turned on the Italian following seven defeats in eight league games.
It was fitting that Fulham's futile stay in the Premier League ended on the road as they have been historically bad in away fixtures.
They have lost their last seven consecutive away matches and have not won away in the league for almost a year, with their tally of just two points away from home this season the lowest in the top four tiers of English football.
Fulham have also conceded at least twice in 13 consecutive league games, both home and away.
In contrast, Watford's victory was the ideal preparation for Sunday's FA Cup semi-final against Wolves at Wembley.
Watford's 13th league win this season is their most in a top-flight campaign since 1986-87.
The Hornets have also eclipsed their Premier League club record of 45 points, set in 2015-16.
Solskjaer said the central defender was unlikely to play in any of United's three remaining league games after suffering ligament damage in Sunday's win against Aston Villa.
The 34-year-old Uruguayan has scored 15 goals in his first season in England, including eight in his last seven games, to help United to second place in the Premier League and to the final of the Europa League.
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