Chris Wilder and Sheffield United have more serious concerns than tiffs with Jurgen Klopp, after making the worst start to a season from any club in Premier League history.
Wilder is the only manager in England’s top four divisions yet to pick up a victory and this was another desperately poor night, claiming an unwanted and embarrassing record.
Slaven Bilic’s West Bromwich Albion emerged with the three points to lift themselves out of the relegation zone, winning for the first time in the league since promotion from the Championship. Conor Gallagher, the impressive midfielder, provided the crucial goal in what was a scrappy game between two teams who, on this evidence, will view a 17th placed finish as mission accomplished.
Albion benefited from good fortune and some abysmal finishing, with United failing to score from 22 attempts on goal, so this will serve as a huge psychological boost for Bilic and his players.
Yet these are increasingly fraught times for Wilder, setting another Premier League record after 13 matches without a win, in what was another underwhelming performance. With only one point so far, they have managed to suffer a poorer start than even Derby in the 2007/08 season, who eventually finished the campaign with a mere 11.
Wilder had been accused of being “selfish” by Klopp after Liverpool’s draw at Brighton, in an attack over the substitutes rule, and the pressure is undoubtedly building.
He said: "You have to keep believing and hoping. We have to be realistic with the start we have had. We have to get three teams beneath us, that's the situation we are in. We have to give ourselves a fighting chance. We have to pick ourselves up between now and Christmas.
“I'm sure four or five teams in the bottom part of the division would take 17th now. That's the intensity of the league and how cut-throat it is.
“There is nothing wrong with the attitude and desire of the team. It is just the quality in front of goal that has let us down. It’s quite incredible that we’ve not got something from the game, and that hurts us.”
The relegation fight
United had started impressively, attacking Albion’s back-three with intent, yet the home team took a 13th-minute lead through Gallagher, the Chelsea loanee. Sander Berge cleared Matheus Pereira’s corner to the edge of the penalty area and though Gallagher’s shot lacked power it found the bottom corner, past the outstretched hand of Aaron Ramsdale.
West Brom have produced encouraging performances against Tottenham and Manchester United in recent weeks and are clearly growing in confidence.
Pereira, the winger, was a shimmering menace, frequently switching flanks and pulling United’s defence out of position with his trickery. Defensively they were also resilient and well organised, led by a former title-winner in Branislav Ivanovic.
Sam Johnstone, the goalkeeper, is also emerging as a key performer for Bilic and made a number of fine saves, most notably from Oliver Burke’s first-half header.
Wilder introduced £23.5 million signing Rhian Brewster early into the second-half, with the visitors sorely in need of a spark.
George Baldock should have equalised in the 63rd minute from inside the penalty area after Burke’s pass, but the wing-back scooped his shot over the bar. Wilder spun round in his technical area, shaking his head in disbelief. It was not the last example of atrocious finishing.
United were now dominant in possession, with Johnstone diving to his right to push away Oliver McBurnie’s shot nine minutes from the end.
Bilic was suffering on the touchline, kicking and heading every imaginable ball in seven minutes of added time.
Lys Mousset, a substitute, wasted United’s final chance by lifting a shot over from three yards and for now, it is Albion who are above the dreaded dotted line.