Chris Wood scored the first Premier League hat-trick of his career on Sunday 25th April, as an impressive Burnley beat Wolverhampton Wanderers 4-0. In doing so, he became the first player from New Zealand to score a Premier League hat-trick and also took his tally for the season up to ten top flight goals. He has since added an 11th to his tally with a penalty against West Ham United. This means that he has now hit double figures in the league in each of his four seasons in the Premier League with Burnley, an impressive feat for a player at a club where chances can be few and far between. With his ability to consistently find the back of the net, paired with his effectiveness in bringing his teammates into play and holding the ball up to relieve his side of pressure, is Chris Wood the most underrated striker in the Premier League?
At 29, Wood is an experienced centre-forward with many strings to his bow, but his journey to find success in England hasn’t always been easy. Following the recommendation of one of the club’s coaching staff, West Bromwich Albion offered Wood, who had never played outside of his native New Zealand, a trial in 2009. The trial was a success and Wood joined West Brom’s youth team aged 17 for his start in English football. After impressing for the youth team, Wood was soon in the reserve side where he enjoyed an equally fruitful spell in front of goal. Injuries to the Premier League strugglers would allow Wood his first team debut for the club, coming off the bench in a league fixture against Portsmouth in April 2009. Wood’s Premier League career had begun and, in making his debut, he became only the fifth New Zealander to play in the division.
However, this was to be something of a false dawn. Wood would find himself being sent on several loans outside of the Premier League in the years that followed; six in four years in fact. While this may not have been the fairytale career in England that the New Zealander may have dreamt of when making the move across the globe, it was vital for his development. The loan moves would have differing levels of success, from 0 goals in seven appearances at Barnsley to 11 goals in 19 games at Millwall, but in each spell there would have been vital lessons learned which moulded Wood into the effective Premier League striker we see today.
The striker thought he had found a new home in Leicester City, signing permanently from West Brom in 2013. Leicester were a club at the start of their rise at the time and won the league in Wood’s first season. However, with 12 goals in 52 league games to his name, and another spell out on loan in 2015, Wood was on the move once more, following just seven appearances for the Foxes in the Premier League.
This time it was Championship club Leeds United. It was Leeds who would reap the rewards from Wood’s many loan spells, as his efforts began to bear fruit. The number nine was a firm fan favourite in his two seasons at Leeds, and with 41 goals in 82 league games it is easy to see why. However, in the 2017 summer transfer window he would break Leeds hearts, agreeing to join Burnley for a reported fee of £15 million. Wood was back in the Premier League
For Burnley to spend £15 million on a player in 2017 you know that they had every faith he could repeat his scoring exploits for Leeds in the Premier League. Four years later and he has proved this to be a shrewd piece of business. For a club that tend to be near the wrong end of the table, to have a striker who has guaranteed double figures in goals each of his seasons at the club is worth their weight in gold.
Wood is 6 foot 3 and his physicality is one of his biggest assets. Through years of plying his trade on loan in lower divisions, Wood has adapted his game brilliantly to use his frame to his advantage. This is especially beneficial in the Premier League, where defenders have become less used to dealing with the presence of a player in Wood’s mould as football has evolved. He works incredibly hard for his team and ensures he is always in the box when crosses come in, as this is the area where he can inflict the most damage. His aerial prowess is particularly useful in both boxes, whether attacking or defending, and the striker has a knack of popping up in the right place at the right time to score.
As well as scoring a more than respectable amount himself, Wood’s ability to hold the ball up and bring his teammates into play is also a strength. The fact he only has seven Premier League assists to his name in his career to date is not reflective of his influence on helping provide for his teammates. His headed flick-on to strike partner Matej Vydra in Burnley’s recent 3-2 defeat to Southampton showed not only his awareness but also his ability to execute the pass with his head. His ability on the ball is also better than he gets credit for; he is far more than an old fashioned battering ram of a striker.
All these facets to his game mean that it cannot be overstated just how important Wood is to Burnley. Burnley have only scored 31 goals in the league after playing 34 games, meaning that Wood has scored over a third of the club’s league goals this term, with his haul of 11 in 29 games. He has also assisted three goals for his teammates in that time. Having a striker who can feed off of scraps is essential for a team that play the way Burnley do. They keep things as tight as they can and get crosses into the box at every opportunity for their strikers to attack, so a player with Wood’s aerial ability is a blessing for Sean Dyche’s men. His 16 headed goals in the Premier League are testament to this, but with 21 goals with his right foot and eight with his left, he is far from a one trick pony. To put Wood’s goal return into context, Matej Vydra and Ashley Barnes are the club’s joint second top scorers in the league this season, with just three league goals each.
Wood’s best Premier League return came last season, with 14 goals, and with four games left to play of the current campaign, and coming off the back of a confidence-boosting hat-trick, the striker will be keen to try to at least match that this season. The fact that Wood plays for a club that is perceived to be less glamourous than many of their Premier League rivals in Burnley means that he is perhaps not talked about as much as he should be. 45 goals in almost four seasons is impressive for any player towards the bottom half of the Premier League and, with the consistency of his numbers, Burnley can almost plan around him getting between ten and 15 league goals each season.
While New Zealand haven’t historically produced a catalogue of top players, Wood is the country’s second highest goal scorer and, with four goals needed to catch first, you would expect him to secure his place in his homeland’s history. He is his country’s star man and it could be argued he is the same for Burnley, although often their defensive players receive more plaudits than their offensive ones. He fits their style perfectly and the club gave him his chance in the Premier League, so it has been a match made in heaven for club and player. It is difficult to think of many other players in the Premier League who are so consistent with relatively little service. Wood is crucial for his club’s success and for that reason the question should be asked: is he the most underrated striker in the Premier League?