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Luton match title challengers as the real Premier League Manager of the Year impresses

Luton match title challengers as the real Premier League Manager of the Year impresses

There were stoppage-time goals in all three Saturday 3pm Premier League games, with huge ramifications in the relegation and Manager of the Year races.

Bournemouth 2-2 Sheffield United: Cherries draw a game they almost lost and should have won
That’s a good bit of Barclays, that. You don’t necessarily expect to see such games as early as before the March international break but one of the niche delights of Our League is a game where a mid-table going-nowhere team faces one already doomed (even if not technically relegated according to maths-studying bores) and the sheer lack of peril or jeopardy or really anything means it all ends up tremendously entertaining.

There were over 20 shots on target, with Sheffield United managing nine despite only having a third of the possession, while there was also a missed penalty and VAR mood-hoovering. Bonus points for the fact Dominic Solanke was the key figure for both those misfortunes.

When handball saw Solanke’s effort ruled out with roughly 20 minutes to go, it appeared Sheffield United were going to snag only a second away win of the season. In the end, they still managed to end up spending the bulk of injury-time clinging on for a draw. Which was very on brand of them.

Bournemouth’s equaliser from Enes Unal – one of those players Man City bought, never played and then sold for a profit, which is also textbook Barclays – was ideal for coming sufficiently late to count as a Sheffield United heartbreaker while sufficiently early that Bournemouth will still slightly rue the fact they couldn’t go on and take all three points from a game that, all fun and games aside, they really ought to have won.

A result, then, that both a) doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things but b) leaves nobody happy. Absolutely perfect. Caps doffed to absolutely everyone involved.

Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder and player Oliver Arblaster

Chris Wilder takes offence to Oliver Arblaster’s lunch

Crystal Palace 1-1 Luton: Hatters conjure another mad finish to stay in touch
While the concession of late goals at Kenilworth Road has done as yet unknown harm to Luton’s season, it has been countered by their unerring ability to snatch points from the jaws of defeat on the road.

Rob Edwards has seen his side allow late winners against Arsenal (97th minute), Aston Villa (89th), West Ham and Burnley (85th), as well as a 95th-minute equaliser against Liverpool. But in away games against Sheffield United (81st), Burnley, Nottingham Forest (both 92nd) and now Crystal Palace (96th), they have accrued potentially priceless points by scoring when all looked lost.

Only Liverpool (24) and Arsenal (16) have scored more Premier League goals from the 76th minute onwards this season than the Hatters (15), who match Manchester City for late prolificacy.

Rob Edwards blamed “bad luck” for the recent late goals which went against his side but whatever fortune Luton relied on for Cauley Woodrow’s header in the final minute of six in second-half stoppage-time, there was at least some design involved. The Hatters have fairly inevitably lost more league games than all but the two sides they came up with from the Championship, but rarely are they hammered. No club has lost more often by a single goal this campaign; keeping those margins of defeat consistently narrow makes these moments possible.

It remains an uphill battle, at least until any and all points deductions are administered and the relegation picture is made clearer. But Luton are within three points of safety – and in turn have kept Crystal Palace vaguely in orbit of the drop zone – and have shown enough times already that if a gap can at least be theoretically bridged, that is the only chance they need.

Wolves 2-1 Fulham: Manager of the Year shines
We’d already written our blackout bit for this game quite some time ago, having decided that – with all due apologies to Rob Edwards – this match constituted the ‘Actually, I Think This Guy is the Real Manager of the Year’ derby. So here it is.

After this 2-1/2-1 victory over Fulham/Wolves, the case for Wolves/Fulham boss Gary O’Neil/Marco Silva to be manager of the year is more compelling than ever.

O’Neil/Silva may not get the headlines that your fancier managers get with their title challenges and teary mid-season resignation announcement videos and technical area violations, but they’ve quietly done a sterling job at Molineux/Craven Cottage.

Having started the campaign with no pre-season and a grim, goalshy fight against relegation potentially on the cards/by selling talisman Aleksandar Mitrovic and a grim, goalshy fight against relegation potentially on the cards, O’Neil/Silva has now steered Wolves/Fulham back up to eighth/above Chelsea in the Premier League table and managed to outscore Manchester United/managed to outscore Manchester United in the process.

O’Neil/Silva has defied expectations all season, and this twelfth/eleventh victory of the season was thoroughly deserved against worthy opponents who have themselves performed better than anyone could reasonably have asked given the trying circumstances in which their season began.

O’Neil/Silva may not be among the leading contenders for the big jobs potentially or definitely up for grabs this summer but they have proven this season that last year’s eye-catching efforts were no flash in the pan and they deserve their Barclays dues. They will always find work in this league now should they so wish, even if the gongs and baubles remain destined for showier, higher-profile names.

READ MORE: Premier League manager rankings

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