David McGoldrick struck a fine winner as relegated Sheffield United avoided a host of unwanted records by beating Burnley to end their two-year Premier League stay with victory.
McGoldrick drove at a backpedalling Clarets defence before curling the ball past Will Norris from 25 yards to delight the Blades fans present for the first time since March 2020.
Norris was starting a second successive game after Burnley revealed their England goalkeeper Nick Pope requires knee surgery, jeopardising his Euro 2020 hopes.
McGoldrick’s goal, his eighth in the league this season, ensured United averted the embarrassment of recording the lowest-ever top-flight tally as they equalled Derby’s 2007-08 total of 20.
They also avoided setting a new Premier League record for defeats in a season, having matched the existing mark of 29, and equalling the most home losses, which stands at 14.
Chris Basham struck a post and McGoldrick fired another great late chance wide against a below-par Burnley side, who end the season 17th, albeit 11 points clear of the relegation places.
With the game mattering little to either sides’ prospects, the most salient news arrived before-kick off when it was confirmed Pope needed surgery.
That may open one of the three goalkeeping spaces alongside Jordan Pickford and Dean Henderson in England’s Euro 2020 squad, and Blades keeper Aaron Ramsdale will be an interested onlooker.
Few have been in the form he has over the past few months, and he impressed again when called upon here, tipping over Dwight McNeil’s early effort and later spreading himself superbly to deny Chris Wood even if the offside flag was belatedly raised.
Whether Ramsdale earns a call-up from Gareth Southgate remains to be seen, but the Blades will be confident of mounting a bid for an immediate return to the top flight with the 23-year-old in goal.
United, of course, are still seeking Chris Wilder’s successor, with caretaker Paul Heckingbottom’s interim spell now up and former Watford and Fulham boss Slavisa Jokanovic the frontrunner to take over.
With the majority of their squad under contract, including lively teenager Daniel Jebbison, the new manager will have plenty to work with.
Importantly, United have broken the losing habit they could not shake in the first half of the campaign – three wins in their final six games and 10 victories in all competitions since the turn of the year helping to build some momentum.
Burnley, in contrast, will head into the summer on the back of seven defeats in their final nine games, and they looked a tired side.
While the travails of the bottom three meant Sean Dyche’s side rarely ever looked in serious danger of relegation, it has nonetheless been a fairly nondescript campaign for the Clarets.
Kept out of trouble by Wood’s 12 goals and a relatively solid defence, Burnley have still recorded their lowest finish in their five seasons since returning to the Premier League.
Like the Blades, they have been hit hard by injuries and will be glad to see the back of this campaign, as Dyche alluded to after the game.
The Burnley boss has one year remaining on his contract, and with a number of positions vacant elsewhere, the Clarets’ first job could well be to secure his services for a longer period.
Dyche spoke after the game about needing a stronger squad, and their reliance on players such as Wood and Pope is clear – indeed Burnley have lost all six games their first-choice keeper has missed this season.
“It sends the fans, the people who were here today, home with a bit more positivity about next season.
“We’re in a different league, there’s going to be a new man in charge, but everyone has to embrace it and look forward. Hopefully the players come back in really good shape to have a successful season.
“I’ve had no conversation with the club about the job. My position was clear – take the team until the end of the season. I know there have been discussions about potential managers and I just hope there’s a decision soon.
“A big decision needs to be made about who is going to be in charge and keeping the squad together is going to be important, and then hitting the ground running at the start of next season.”
“There’s a frustration in the result and in the last couple of results. But I’ve asked an awful lot of these players and with injuries to key players – we’ve got our captain [Ben Mee] missing, a fantastic keeper – they are hard slots to fill when you are a club like us.
“It’s been a challenging season off the pitch but a challenging season on the pitch, particularly with injuries, so there’s a pinch of frustration. But you balance that with the fact we’re in the Premier League.
“It’s been really tough on the players so I’m not going to overly question them. We’ve petered out at the end but after the big win against Fulham, there’s bound to be a bit of that.
“We’ve pulled back the layers of these players, we’ve asked a lot of them. Now we need some more strength in depth without a doubt.”
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