Burnley’s revival continued with a comfortable win to stretch their unbeaten run to four games since their mauling at the Etihad, but post-match attention fell on Nuno Espírito Santo after the Wolves manager launched a stinging verbal attack on the referee Lee Mason.
Ashley Barnes scored his first goal in over a year to put Burnley ahead after 35 minutes, with Chris Wood firing in a second from close range early in the second half. Mason awarded Wolves a late penalty, converted by Fábio Silva, while João Moutinho was not sent off for an apparent kick at Josh Brownhill, but that did not improve Nuno’s opinion of the match official.
“The referee does not have the quality to whistle a game in the Premier League,” Nuno said on Sky Sports. “This is a problem that we knew – we had Lee Mason before. It is not about the crucial mistakes or decisions, it is about the way he handles the game. I’m very disappointed to say this but I would not feel right if I didn’t say it.
“I hope he doesn’t [referee] a game of ours again; that’s what I told him,” Nuno continued. “The games with Lee Mason are always the same. He cannot control the players. With all the other referees the game flows, there’s dialogue. He’s just not ready to do it.”
The Wolves manager did not directly blame Mason for the result. “It was a tough game, but we were expecting that,” he said. “The defending was not good enough for the goals we conceded. We knew what Burnley would try to do and we should have had better answers.”
The Burnley manager, Sean Dyche, was only disappointed that Silva’s late penalty brought a tense ending. “With the number of chances we created we possibly should have been in control earlier,” he said. “Otherwise it was a great performance. We operated well at both ends of the pitch.”
It was fitting Barnes and Wood should score the goals, for though Wolves enjoyed most of the possession and managed nearly as many attempts on goal, they turned out to be poorly equipped to resist Burnley’s standard tactic of pumping high balls into the area for their front two to try to reach.
The visiting side must have known Burnley would be direct and physical, yet even with three centre-halves Wolves struggled to counter the aerial threat. The first half was a fairly tame and featureless affair until Barnes gave Burnley the lead just past the half‑hour.
Wolves had looked the likelier to score up to that point, because they had players such as Rúben Neves and Moutinho moving the ball dangerously around the edge of the Burnley area, yet for all the visitors’ possession they offered space behind their backline their opponents eventually exploited.
Barnes should have done better with a good chance, going for power rather than placement and blasting the ball straight at Rui Patrício. But when Charlie Taylor sent over a cross from the left that found him practically leaning on the far post, the Burnley striker could hardly miss. His downward header beat the Wolves keeper for Barnes’ first goal since November 2019.
A coming-together in the first half that involved Ben Mee and Nélson Semedo gave a fair illustration of the daftness of the present policy of linesmen being encouraged not to raise their flags until the ball has been played. Semedo began chasing a loose ball over the top of the defence from a position that was clearly offside, yet the flag stayed down so Mee was obliged to chase him.
The defender caught his man just as he was in the act of shooting, dispossessing him expertly in the six-yard box but hurting himself in the process. Mee limped through the rest of the half while play restarted with a free-kick for offside halfway back up the field. Ludicrous.
Whatever Nuno said at the interval did not have much effect, for Wolves began the second half like an accident waiting to happen. Romain Saïss got into a mix-up with Patrício to concede an unnecessary corner, then Neves miscontrolled from a Semedo throw-in and allowed Brownhill to crash a shot against the top of the bar.
Moments later, Ashley Westwood sent over a free kick Mee headed back across the six-yard line, Barnes jumped with a couple of defenders and made contact, and Wood lashed the loose ball into the roof of the net from about two feet out, with the Wolves defence watching on.
It was not the tidiest goal but there did not seem any offside or illegal challenge issues and after taking a second look the VAR team allowed it to stand. Wood came close to extending the lead, denied by Patrício’s extended leg after he had gone around the goalkeeper, before Nick Pope sprang into action at the other end to beat out a Neves shot from outside the area.
The game was given a frantic ending it did not really deserve when Josh Benson came on for the last four minutes and brought down Silva in the area before he had managed to touch the ball. The Portuguese forward scored from the spot to make stoppage time more entertaining, but Wolves were unable to find a second.