WEST Ham striker Carlton Cole hailed a session of clay pigeon shooting ahead of last night’s game as being crucial for team spirit.
And Burnley were made to look like sitting ducks by the Hammers as they cruised through to an FA Cup quarter-final at Stoke City.
Cole netted twice immediately after the break to put this tie out of reach of the Clarets, after they had gone in at the break 1-0 down - having been the better side.
It was the key period of the game, with Chris Eagles incorrectly flagged off-side when chipping Robert Green from Jay Rodriguez’s pass, only for, seconds later, Cole to advance from an off-side position to fortuitously squeeze the ball past Lee Grant and Michael Duff at the second attempt.
Moments later, Mark Noble picked out Cole with a superb ball over the top, and he guided the ball beyond Grant, inside the far corner, to effectively kill the tie.
There were bad memories of Burnley’s last trip to Upton Park in the Premier League season when they lost 5-3 after trailing 5-0, and there was worse to follow before the hour when Thomas Hitzlsperger - scorer of the opening goal midway through the first half, saw his corner thumped home by Winston Reid.
Grant was further extended by Demba Ba, although Jay Roddriguez should have scored from a Wade Elliott pass before pulling back a consolation when he headed in after Wayne Bridge and Green got in a muddle, but the Hammers sealed a flattering 5-1 win late on when Freddie Sears finished well.
It had all started so promisingly for Burnley. They had the better of the first 20 minutes in terms of possession and territory, but where they were more measured and precise in their passing, the Hammers posed a real threat on the break with the power and pace of Cole and debutant Ba, whose intelligent movement caused a number of problems.
Wade Elliott, back in the side at the expense of Chris Iwelumo, had the first sight of goal, flashing a volley wide of the near post, before Eagles laced a shot just over the angle.
Moments later, German Hitzlsperger dragged a shot wide with his weaker right foot from Cole’s cross, after pulling away from Clarke Carlisle and Tyrone Mears.
Duff then got an important block in to deny Ba, but the Clarets continued to pick holes in the Hammers’ defence with their probing football, with a superb crossfield pass from Ross Wallace giving Rodrigiuez a half chance, lifting the ball over Green, only to be unable to get on the end of it.
Shortly after Rodriguez outmuscled New Zealander Reid, but Green was equal to his flick, turning the ball over the bar.
Wallace then forced a smart stop from Green after cutting inside and drilling a shot at goal, with Rodriguez and Eagles unable to force in the rebound, and an off-side flag easing the pressure on the Iron.
However, West Ham got their noses in front midway through the first half when Ba and Cole pulled the Burnley defence out of position. Hitzlsperger was allowed to come onto his fearsome left foot by Jack Cork, and cut across the ball, sending it flying past Grant into the back of the net.
West Ham, buoyed by the goal, didn’t allow Burnley out of their half, but the Clarets regrouped and ended the half on the front foot, with Eagles seeing another shot saved by Green.
For all Burnley’s attacking threat, particularly down the right, they couldn’t quite deliver the killer ball in the first period, and went in behind, but positive about their efforts.
That all changed in the space of 13 minutes after the break, with Burnley’s high line and lack of pace at the back exposed time and again. You wonder what effect this sort of defeat will have on the Clarets ahead of Saturday’s big derby at Preston, but a first defeat in four will hopefullly trigger the same response as the last setback at Doncaster Rovers three weeks ago.
Goals have been conceded at one a game for the last six, but this was a bolt from the blue and a cruel reminded of how clinical Premier League sides can be. Eddie Howe admitted it could have all been so different after the first half display, but the result takes the gloss off that display.
The focus now turns to the league, and Burnley have a route to Wembley still open, via the play-offs, after seeing the cup door slammed shut in their face.