Sean Dyche’s man-management helps inspire Burnley’s diamond - Chris Boden’s match verdict

Dwight McNeil celebrates with Chris Wood
Dwight McNeil celebrates with Chris Wood

It was a pearl of old school wisdom straight from his former Nottingham Forest boss Brian Clough’s brand of man-management.

Or maybe even his Burnley predecessor Stan Ternent.

Talking about Dwight McNeil, Sean Dyche said: “It has been a tough week for him and I told him I would kick him somewhere if he didn't smile more!”

McNeil turned in a man of the match display against West Ham, and Dyche added: “He looked like he was smiling when he was playing! It's an amazing bit of coaching that!”

Dyche admitted McNeil had carried an under-par performance - where he was not alone - at Bramall Lane with him in training during the week, but a bit of an arm around the shoulder produced the perfect response.

Dyche had previously noted of McNeil: “He enjoys his football, and I think he’s got a healthy balance of knowing the demands of the team and the demands of the role, but still having that smile on your face as Brian Clough used to say. He still looks like a kid in a sweet shop.”

However, the sweet shop was shut earlier this week, on the back of the 3-0 defeat to Sheffield United, in which McNeil was withdrawn just before the hour.

The only really noticeable dip in his performance levels came at Newcastle in February, when he was taken off at the break, and Dyche explained: “When you are young, it really hurts you when you have had a bad day, and he looked like that. But I reminded him, simply, to smile more because he is a professional footballer playing in the Premier League and doing a fantastic job.”

Dyche likes to make things simple for his players, for them not to over-think things.

He has said on a number of occasions that he and his staff are trying not to “over-coach” what is clearly a natural footballing talent.

And whatever they are doing is clearly working.

From his England Under 20 breakthrough, to being named in L’Equipe’s list of the top 50 players Under 20 in Europe.

From his step up to the England Under 21s, to a remarkably consistent string of Premier League displays.

Burnley have an absolute diamond on their hands. The best player to come through their youth system since Trevor Steven.

It was apt that he stood out against West Ham, having sprung to prominence in the corresponding home game last December, when McNeil scored his first senior goal and seized his moment.

He has started every Premier League game since, and, up against players with some big reputations on Saturday, was the classiest performer on show.

Put it this way, if you were to ask who was the £45m footballer, you would point to McNeil ahead of the Hammers’ former France Under 21 striker Sebastien Haller.

The Rochdale-born wideman was linked with a host of clubs over the week, including his boyhood side Manchester United, who let him go at 14.

The figures mentioned in some of the reports were plucked out of a hat - Burnley will surely be able to name their price, as and when, as Dyche has accepted, he outgrows the club and moves to bigger and better things.

But enjoy him while we can.

For a side whose supporters revel in the ‘anti-football’ tag that seems to follow them, to have such a cultured player at their disposal makes a mockery of any of that nonsense.

McNeil gave Ryan Fredericks a hugely uncomfortable afternoon, hugging the touchline or popping up between the lines, he thought he had claimed one assist from a simply sensational cross, only for a pedantic VAR call against Chris Wood, before he held his nerve to put the second goal on a plate for the Kiwi frontman.

McNeil needs targets to aim for, however, and he said after the game, of Wood and strike partner Ashley Barnes: "I just know that they are always going to be there. It helps when you've got two big lads up there putting chances away."

They must rub their hands together at the vision and quality from that left flank.

And that appreciation clearly works both ways. The pair, having signed new contracts in the build-up to the game, continued their superb return over the calendar year, extending their tally to 27 goals between them.

Usually one of the pair scores, if not both, and they proved far too strong for the Hammers, revelling in a performance that was night and day from the setback in Sheffield.

Declan Rice felt like the Hammers were “bullied”. Burnley were close to Dyche’s long-held idea of football nirvana as they rattled into the visItors from the first whistle: “That’s kind of where I like it, that mixed play. We were effective from set-pieces, we lifted it in behind them, we were effective with the ball, switching and playing, Jeff and Dwight getting in the pockets, and that’s how I want it, when the balance is right.”

That sort of performance suggests a side for whom a second top 10 finish in three seasons is well within their grasp, making the defeat at Bramall Lane look like just a bad day at the office.