United picked the worst possible time to produce one of their most disappointing performances of the season in front of a crowd of 32,351 at Elland Road, with Fulham’s 3-1 home victory over Aston Villa seeing them leapfrog the Whites into the final play-off position.
It proved a mixed Bank Holiday Monday for Yorkshire’s trio of Championship promotion chasers, with Huddersfield Town pegged back late on in a 1-1 draw at Derby County to drop back to fourth spot – victory would have moved them to within five points of second-placed Newcastle United with a game in hand after the stuttering Magpies lost 3-1 at Ipswich.
Huddersfield’s draw confirmed promotion to the Premier League for Brighton.
Meanwhile, Sheffield Wednesday moved up to fifth place after securing their fourth successive victory with a 2-1 triumph at QPR.
On his side’s fraught afternoon against Wolves, who triumphed thanks to a goal seven minutes before the break from striker Nouha Dicko, head coach Monk said: “We have had the mentality for so long where we have been in the play-offs quite comfortably and been in that protecting mode of trying to stay in there.
“Now, we do not have that luxury any more. Now, we have to go on the hunt and sometimes it is easier with less pressure on you when you are on the hunt.
“When you are in there, it’s maybe a different pressure. We have got to take care of our own business, They are the three biggest games of our lives and we have to approach it in that way.”
It was a case of ‘if only’ for Huddersfield, who were tantalisingly on the cusp of moving up to the 80-point mark to maintain their outside hopes of pipping Newcastle to automatic promotion, only for ex-Town midfielder Jacob Butterfield to earn the Rams’ a point after scoring an 88th-minute equaliser.
Town, without a win in Derby in 22 matches since November 1957 – with that barren run incorporating 20 defeats – had taken the lead in the first 10 minutes, courtesy of a second goal in successive games from striker Collin Quaner.
Wagner, whose side suffered late anguish just three days on from beating Preston in the final moments, and who welcome Fulham on Saturday, said: “We have always said we are not able to influence what happens on the other pitches and everyone has seen again how difficult it is to win football matches in the Championship and to get over the line.
“We got a result which was not a perfect one, but a good one, and I think this gives us every confidence for the next game to get the points we need to occupy a play-off place.
“I was very pleased with the performance. The equaliser at the end did not give us the best feeling, but I think Derby, on the one side, deserved it.”
Owls’ head coach Carlos Carvalhal saw his side prevail 2-1 at Loftus Road, through goals from Adam Reach and Daniel Pudil, and was full of praise for his side’s character after the game.
Carvalhal, hoping that midfield pair Kieran Lee and Sam Hutchinson can add to his squad options by returning to fitness in the near future, commented: “Anything can happen and there are three games and we must be focused. The reality is that we are feeling that we are strong at this part of the season. Physically and tactically, the mentality of this team is very strong at this moment.
“We came here to win and did our job and our winning mentality were special and strong and it is why we achieved the three points.”