Burnley end 2018 with important victory over West Ham United

The Clarets, under Sean Dyche, have shown before that nothing is decided in the first half of a season.

Sunday, 30th December 2018, 4:28 pm
Updated Wednesday, 9th January 2019, 3:31 am
Goalscorers Dwight McNeil and Chris Wood celebrate the games opening goal

The 5-1 loss against Everton on home soil on Boxing Day carried a similar feel of dejection and despondence that followed defeat to Hull City three years ago.

At that point a play-off place, let alone promotion, appeared to be slipping away from Burnley but a 4-0 win against Bristol City engineered a 23-game unbeaten run which concluded in the Championship title and the return of Premier League football.

An impressive victory over West Ham United in their latest outing in the top flight should have restored hope again, particularly after wins for Fulham and Cardiff City had left somewhat of a cloud.

Dyche restored Tom Heaton to the starting line-up for the visit of the Hammers. The 32-year-old, linked with a January move away, was making his first appearance in the Premier League since dislocating his shoulder more than 15 months ago.

Burnley had their captain back. And it showed. The England international didn't have much to do in terms of intervention but his presence was felt from the stands and on the pitch.

The return of teenager Dwight McNeil also made a difference; his positivity on the ball and his youthfulness off it really shone through.

The home side should have been ahead with the game in its infancy. Johann Berg Gudmundsson, another key addition to the XI, did well to shield the ball from Angelo Ogbonna before offloading to McNeil and the winger's cross was turned wide of the near post by Ashley Barnes, who was unmarked.

Undeterred and uninhibited the hosts continued to work the ball well and Jack Cork, on the stretch, was only a stud's width away from converting Ashley Westwood's teasing cross, with Lukasz Fabianski repelling McNeil's header with the ball still alive.

Heaton, whose last clean sheet came 20 months ago, against the Eagles at Turf Moor, had a single save to make in the first half.

He'll face more challenging tasks than Ogbonna's header in the coming weeks but he did what was needed, gathering low in the centre of goal.

Burnley don't take the lead often but they have a proud return when they do. Their first came after quarter-of-an-hour as Chris Wood continued his fine goalscoring run against the Londoners.

It's now five in four games against the Hammers for the New Zealand international, accounting for 38% of his Premier League tally.

He was on the end of Ashley Barnes's header, after his strike partner had cushioned Westwood's cross in to his path, and then fired the ball past Fabianski at his near post.

The Clarets aren't renowned for creating high volumes of chances in games but they had a hatful against the Hammers.

Ben Mee looped a header over the top when peeling around the back to meet Westwood's corner and McNeil saw his effort blocked by the recovering Issa Diop from Barnes's pass.

However, the Clarets made things slightly more comfortable in the 34th minute. McNeil's opportunities in the first team have been few and far between since his introduction as a late substitution against AFC Bournemouth last season but he made this one count.

The 19-year-old, not for the first time, found space on the blind side of his marker to turn Westwood's cross home to register his first goal as a professional in only his fourth showing at this level.

And he could have added a second just before the interval only to steer the ball around the wrong side of the upright from Barnes's pull back from the byline.

A West Ham response was expected after the break as they introduced Andy Carroll and Grady Diangana but, if anything, it was Burnley who should have extended their advantage.

Wood failed to connect with Barnes's centre on the edge of the six-yard box and the former Leeds United forward should have hit the target, at least, with just Fabianski to beat from Westwood's through ball.

Sandwiched in-between those efforts was a big save from Fabianski, the Polish stopper, formerly of Arsenal, denied Barnes with a strong right hand from close range following beautful build up play from McNeil, Westwood and Wood.

United's response was largely non-threatening with Carroll heading over and Felipe Anderson shooting over the cross bar from distance, though substitute Xande Silva had Heaton worried with a deflected drive that dropped just beyond the far post.

Fabianski denied Barnes at his near post again with full-time closing in but there was still time for Heaton to write his own conclusion.

Carroll looked favourite to score when winning Aaron Cresswell's delivery but, from point blank range, Heaton somehow flicked the ball on to the woodwork.