After 13 games last season, Wolves had 19 points. After 13 games this season, Wolves had 20 points – the most they’ve ever had in the Premier League at that stage. Strange then that they found themselves six places worse off in the table before kick-off on Monday: 11th this season; fifth last. In a strange campaign in general, Wolves are a prime oddity – searching for a true identity in the absence of their star striker but defying odds and prospering regardless.
Sean Dyche’s side had conceded the same number of goals (18) this season as they had at the same stage of last. Their position of 18th before kick-off – compared to tenth last – was down to the 11 fewer goals they had scored.
Unsurprisingly, four of Burnley’s six goals this season have come from set pieces. But Ashley Barnes’ opener came at the end of a quite brilliant counter-counter. An uncharacteristically poor touch from Podence at one end allowed Burnley to pass their way through the thirds to the other.
Chris Wood then laid a perfectly weighted pass for the overlapping Charlie Taylor, who was the deepest lying defender before sprinting the length of the pitch to dink a quite beautiful cross at the byline for Barnes to nod home. With defenders diving to block and a number of bodies in the way, the chip to the back post was the only way Burnley could score; it was executed perfectly.
Barnes should have scored moments before as Nick Pope’s long pass clearance sent him through, only for the striker to hit it straight at Rui Patricio. Sean Dyche’s side deserved the lead on a night made for them: cold; wet; scrappy; Burnley.
And the second goal epitomised what Burnley are about. A deep, central free-kick was chipped to Ben Mee, who directed his header into a mass of bodies in the penalty area, before the ball fell for Wood to smash into the roof of the net from six yards out. Classic.
But the things you expect from Dyche’s side – the second balls; the aerial victories; the shape; the work rate – were accompanied by the glimpses of quality that have been missing for much of the season. Josh Brownhill whipped one curling effort on to the bar, Barnes should have done better from an excellent Robbie Brady pick out, and Wood could easily have got his second and Burnley’s third after a brilliant first time through ball from Ashley Westwood.
And at 2-0 up, they shut the game down. Adama Traore came on but was forced very wide by Taylor, who was faultless. Daniel Podence and Pedro Neto – who have scored seven of Wolves’ eight goals since Raul Jimenez’s injury – were tidy but made ineffective through the lack of space they were allowed in the areas they normally haunt.
Wolves only truly threatened in the last five minutes of the game, after Josh Benson came off the bench for Burnley and immediately, comically conceded a penalty for a daft challenge on Fabio Silva, who cooly converted.
But the 18-year-old’s first Premier League goal will be perhaps the only positive on a disappointing night for Nuno Espirito Santo and Wolves. But while they continue their search for consistency and specific style, Burnley have certainly rediscovered theirs. That’s now eight points from a possible 12 for the Clarets, who are now adding goals to the customary stubbornness.
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