Dwight McNeil strikes to seal crucial Burnley victory over Wolves

Sean Dyche’s 300th game as Burnley manager ended with a 2-0 home victory against Wolverhampton, just as his first one had in 2012. As Wolves are no longer the mid-table Championship opponents who turned up seven years ago this victory gave Dyche even more satisfaction, especially as it ended a run of four straight defeats and should go a long way to easing any relegation fears.

“Obviously, my first win was important but I wasn’t flavour of the month back then,” said the manager who now has a pub named after him outside the ground. “We didn’t see a lot of the ball but we did the basics exceptionally well.”

Nuno Espírito Santo selected a strong side ahead of next Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final, with only Raúl Jiménez allowed a rest, though the need for concentration in the Premier League did not necessarily transmit itself to the players. Certainly the visitors’ minds seemed to be elsewhere when they fell for a training-ground routine to allow Burnley to go ahead in less than two minutes.

Ashley Westwood shaped to take a free-kick but as he placed the ball on the ground Dwight McNeil appeared at his shoulder to launch it into the area. Chris Wood was already moving, getting a start on a static defence before taking one touch to round Rui Patrício and a second to slide the ball towards goal, where it went in via a post and Conor Coady.

The visitors spent the rest of the first half trying to get back on terms, without finding a way past James Tarkowski, never mind Tom Heaton. Rúben Neves sent a volley wide on the half-hour and Ivan Cavaleiro almost combined neatly with Diogo Jota a few minutes later, only to find Heaton alert to the danger with an interception.

That meant neither side had managed an attempt on target by the time the interval arrived. Burnley have picked up points in such circumstances before, a couple of own goals allowed them to beat Fulham in January, but Wolves were seeing too much of the ball and playing too high up the pitch for Dyche to be completely happy.

Jota opened the second half with a shot from a narrow angle that was a couple of feet wide, before Leander Dendoncker created the best opportunity yet to trouble the goalkeeper by rounding Ben Mee on the right touchline. An unmarked Cavaleiro screamed for the ball in the middle, yet when Dendoncker found him perfectly the striker blasted wastefully high.

Heaton was finally forced to make a save in the 75th minute from a Jonny Otto header, yet no sooner had the first accurate attempt arrived than a second turned up two minutes later. This time it was at the opposite end of the pitch and the impressive McNeil did not miss. When Tarkowksi won a header on halfway the Wolves defence fell away, with Romain Saïss in particular failing to close the winger down and practically inviting a shot on goal.

With all the confidence of a successful first season and a recent call-up to the England camp McNeil was happy to oblige, finding Patrício’s bottom-left corner with an ease that left one wondering what had taken Burnley so long.

The teenager was given an ovation as he left the field just before the end, though Mee and Tarkowski at the heart of the defence provided the platform for this victory.

“We needed better concentration and communication at the start of the game, but Burnley are very organised and very physical,” Nuno said. “Physical but fair.”


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