An early Christmas present
Burnley supporters got their wish last night for us to be out of the bottom three at Christmas with a 2-1 home victory against Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Goals for the front two Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood gave us a two goal advantage early in the second half only for a Wolves penalty in the 89th minute to give us a few nervy minutes at the end before referee Lee Mason blew the whistle on what was a fully deserved three points.
A visit from Wolves was something I didn’t at one time look forward to. I saw us beat them on three of the first four occasions in my early years watching the Clarets. The last of those was in November 1963 when a late John Connelly goal gave us a 1-0 win. We didn’t beat them again at home in a league game until Boxing Day 2002 with name checks for Gareth Taylor and Dean West who got the goals that day in a 2-1 win.
It’s been a lot more even since and for our manager Sean Dyche this hasn’t been too bad a fixture. It’s previously yielded two wins and two draws including his very first match in charge of the Clarets back in November 2012 when goals from Martin Paterson and Charlie Austin gave us a 2-0 win.
Sean Dyche made one change to the team that had started the 0-0 draw at Aston Villa with Ashley Barnes returning to the starting line up at the expense of Jay Rodriguez. That didn’t go down too well on the message board, neither did the omission of Matěj Vydra from the squad, despite reports of an injury, something Dyche later confirmed as a not too serious back problem. The decision to include two goalkeepers on the newly extended bench was described by one poster as pathetic. I have to admit there must have been circumstances that brought that about although, interestingly, it was something David Moyes did in the later match.
Dyche had said after the Villa draw that we had to find that attacking element to our game. We had started to keep the clean sheets that are so important to us but a look down the goals scored column showed us to be the lowest in the Premier League. We hoped the change of personnel might just bring that but it was definitely the need for more defensive work in the early part of the game with Wolves looking by far the better of the two teams.
We did what we do? We defended well, we got blocks in when needed, we kept opportunities down to a minimum which meant Nick Pope didn’t really have too much to do and we came through it with the score at 0-0 after which we turned things round and it was us starting to ask the questions.
It all started with a free kick on the right hand side that Dwight McNeil made a right hash of. Wolves broke from their own box but McNeil had raced back and nicked the ball off them right on the edge of our box and played it out to Brady who combined down the left with Wood. Ashley Westwood got involved, played the ball back to Wood who waited for the express train coming down the left wing. That train was Charlie Taylor who made an incredible lung bursting run. Wood played him in and his cross, looped over defender and goalkeeper to the back post, was sublime. Barnes was there to head home. Burnley were 1-0 up.
Ashley gave us that angry expression which I am sure was sheer relief. It was at Watford the last time he’d scored. That was from the penalty spot some 394 days ago, 394 days during which he’s had surgery, fought hard to get back to full fitness.
By half time we were very much in the ascendancy, by now fully deserving of our lead and we were in for an opening to the second half that took the game well away from Wolves. We really did start it on the front foot and when they gave the ball away to Josh Brownhill less than five minutes in he was just inches away from his first Premier League goal with a superb strike from outside the box that hit the bar.
There was no immediate reaction from Wolves and that prompted Nuno Espirito Santo to make a double change on the hour with both Fábio Silva and Adama Traoré coming on but it was us who continued on top. Westwood released Wood who turned inside his man only to then see Patrício deny him a second with some outstanding goalkeeping and then Brady played a delightful ball into the box that Barnes just couldn’t quite get a good connection on.
It proved to be Brady’s final action of the night. He pulled up sprinting back and was immediately withdrawn with Erik Pieters replacing him. McNeil moved over to the right with Pieters doubling up with Taylor to try and counter any threat from Traoré. They dealt with him superbly, he got in one early cross and that was about it.
We were seeing out the game more than comfortably. We’d been by far the better side. Barnes had gone off with Jay Rodriguez coming on and then, with three minutes remaining, we were forced to make a third substitution when McNeil went down. Josh Benson came on for the final few minutes but immediately gave away a penalty. It was probably a little bit of naivety on his part but it meant Fábio Silva was able to reduce the arrears from the spot in the 89th minute.
Finally, that last whistle came, we were up two places, we’d beaten Wolves after what was surely our best performance of the season. When we drew the previous home game against Everton, I suggested that we were starting to look ourselves again. We’ve since been and picked up four points with two clean sheets on the road and now this performance. I’m not getting carried away, we are still perilously close to the bottom of the table but the performances have been getting better and better and I can’t recall last time we played so well at home. It’s the first time we’ve scored more than one in a home game since we beat Bournemouth 3-0 back in February.
We’ve still a couple of games to play in 2020, there’s still all the talk of a takeover, and then, of course comes the January transfer window. Chairman Mike Garlick said of the window yesterday: “We will have one eye on the January transfer window where we remain hopeful of strengthening in the new year as we look to take the club forwards.”
Next stop Leeds – will it be a day of goals as many Leeds games are or will it be Burnley keeping another shut out at the back?
Whatever happens then, we are going into Christmas in 16th place in the table and I’m sure many of us would have grabbed at that just a few weeks ago.
This was very much another game where the Clarets looked like the Clarets we’ve all become accustomed to.
The teams were;
Burnley: Nick Pope, Matt Lowton, James Tarkowski, Ben Mee, Charlie Taylor, Robbie Brady (Erik Pieters 69), Josh Brownhill, Ashley Westwood, Dwight McNeil (Josh Benson 87), Ashley Barnes (Jay Rodriguez 82), Chris Wood. Subs not used: Bailey Peacock-Farrell, Will Norris, Phil Bardsley, Kevin Long, Jimmy Dunne, Dale Stephens.
Yellow Cards: Ashley Westwood, Jay Rodriguez.
Wolves: Rui Patrício, Max Kilman, Conor Coady, Romain Saïss, Nelson Sémedo, Owen Otasowie (Fábio Silva 60), Rúben Neves (Vitinha 76), João Moutinho, Rayan Aït-Nouri (Adama Traoré 60), Pedro Neto, Daniel Podence. Subs not used: John Ruddy, Ki-Jana Hoever, Willy Boly, Marçal, Taylor Perry, Theo Corbeanu.
Yellow Card: Owen Otasowie.
Referee: Lee Mason (Bolton).