BIRMINGHAM, England (AP) — Wolverhampton Wanderers moved into fifth place in the English Premier League thanks to midfielder Leander Dendoncker’s second-half goal to win at local rival Aston Villa 1-0 on Saturday.
A fifth win from six league games sent Wolves above Manchester United and two points behind fourth-placed Chelsea in the race for a Champions League place next season. Chelsea and United have a game in hand on Wolves.
Meanwhile, 19th-placed Villa stayed in serious relegation trouble after taking two points from six matches.
Coach Nuno Espírito Santo’s Wolves side is both attractive going forward and hard to break down, registering an 11th clean sheet of the season.
“Everything starts on the defensive process of the team and our goal is always a clean sheet,” he said. “Today it was about controlling the game because Villa have four midfielders, so much short possession, that it gets tough.”
Winger Adama Traoré helped to set up the goal one minute after replacing striker Diogo Jota.
Traoré found space in midfield, turned and broke two tackles before spraying the ball wide to forward Raúl Jiménez down the left. Jiménez whipped in a cross which Spaniard Jonny flicked to Dendoncker, who pushed the ball onto his left foot before rifling it past goalkeeper Orjan Nyland.
“I’m very happy for Leander because he’s a very hard worker, he’s a runner,” Espírito Santo said. “He gives us so much and he truly deserves this moment.”
Nyland almost gifted Wolves the lead with a bizarre error near the end of the first half.
Looking to throw the ball out, the ball flew out of the back of his hand and landed at Jota’s feet near the edge of the penalty area. But the forward rushed his shot somewhat and it went just over the crossbar.
After Villa left back Matt Targett was taken off injured early on with what appeared to be a hamstring injury, Wolves threatened first when Jiménez’s near-post header was saved in the 19th.
Villa’s best player, as often this season, was roaming midfielder Jack Grealish. But apart from one low shot he had little impact against a well-organized Wolves.
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