Burnley 2-0 West Ham: Improved Clarets give themselves a boost going into 2019
McNeil nets his first Premier League goal (photo: Getty Images)

Burnley 2-0 West Ham: Improved Clarets give themselves a boost going into 2019

Burnley are now only in the relegation zone by goal difference.

Chris Lincoln

This is why we love football.

Just when you get the feeling that Burnley are staring down the barrel of relegation and West Ham have turned a corner, both sides put in contrasting performances that you would have expected from the opposition.

Up and down the country, you would have been hard-pressed to find two sides with such varying form - yet it was the underdogs who came out on top to drag themselves within goal difference of the safety places.

Bold Burnley selection

Burnley reverted to a tried and tested 4-4-2 formation after failing to batten down the hatches with 5-4-1 in recent weeks. The eye-catching team news saw Tom Heaton make his first start since September 2017 in place of Joe Hart, whilst teenager Dwight McNeil was handed just his second Premier League start.

Both were to make a huge impact on the contest.

West Ham welcomed back Marko Arnautovic who partnered Lucas Perez in attack with Javier Hernandez sidelined. Felipe Anderson, one of the form players in the league, offered the creative threat from midfield whilst Mark Noble returned.

Wood continues his impressive form against the Hammers

Burnley started the contest with pace and intensity, symbolising the look of a side that were on top of their game - not one that had lost six of their last seven games. It was a tactic that was maintained for the entire 90 minutes.

Johann Berg Gudmundsson personified the ideal in the early stages as he burst forward from the centre of the pitch, bravely riding tackles, before feeding McNeil on the left flank. The 19-year old cut the ball across and a neat dummy from Ashley Westwood, who was to produce one of his best performances in a Burnley shirt, created space for Ashley Barnes but the striker could only hook his effort wide.

Yet the breakthrough came as early as the 15th minute for the Clarets. McNeil picked out Barnes with a long ball who headed it down into the path of Chris Wood. The Kiwi set himself with a touch before firing past Lukasz Fabianski at the near post. His fifth goal in four Premier League games against West Ham.

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McNeil doubles the lead with his first Premier League goal

McNeil was lively throughout and almost created a second when he placed a James Tarkowski clipped pass across the penalty area. Yet West Ham failed to clear their lines and Westwood was on hand to deliver the ball back into the penalty area. Despite the warning just produced by McNeil, Michail Antonio, standing in at right-back, left the teenager unmarked at the back post and he was able to slide the ball into the net for Burnley's second of the contest.

McNeil should have added a third before the break. Wood hooked the ball on where he found his strike partner racing through the channel. Barnes pulled the ball back to McNeil but he fired wide from close to the penalty spot.

The Turf Moor crowd were stunned but delighted to witness such an intense attacking threat that had given them a 2-0 lead at the break.

Clarets continue to press

Burnley were not willing to rest on their laurels, perhaps aware of the ability of their opponents to pick apart defences. With Felipe Anderson out-fought and out-thought, the home side continued to press forward and were only denied again by an excellent Fabianski save.

Yet the build-up play was some of the best Burnley had played all season. Wood linked with McNeil down the left before the striker then combined with Westwood who threaded a perfectly weighted through ball back to Wood. Burnley's joint record signing found Barnes who was only denied by a fantastic reaction stop from Fabianski.

Even when time was ticking away, Burnley were not prepared to just sit and contain. Phil Bardsley won the ball back on the halfway line after a strong press before finding Barnes. The striker picked out Westwood who in turn slid through Wood one-on-one with Fabianski. Yet the Pole was out quickly to close the angle and Wood fired wide.

West Ham's only real opportunity of note came in the final moments with Anderson finally able to utilise his craft. The Brazilian worked the ball to Aaron Cresswell who picked out substitute Andy Carroll. The giant striker connected sweetly with his header but Heaton pulled out an outstanding save to tip the ball onto the crossbar.

A cracking result matched by an impeccable performance to give Sean Dyche's side hope going into 2019.