It has been said that a week is a long time in politics; if that is so, then, in football, a week can be an eternity.
In their previous fixture, Burnley were awful at Sheffield United; heavy-legged, rudderless and soundly-beaten.
On Radio 5 Live’s 606 phone-in show, the former Everton winger, turned pundit, Pat Nevin, suggested that for Burnley to be effective playing the way Sean Dyche requires of them, they must be fully committed and “on it” for every minute of every game. It was a shrewd and salient critique.
Happily, it seems that the players were listening; for when West Ham arrived at Turf Moor on Saturday, Burnley were most definitely switched on throughout the match, resulting in probably their best performance of the season and a resounding victory.
All over the pitch Burnley’s players were crisp, precise, purposeful and assertive. They dominated the game from first whistle to last and when they play like this, the Clarets are a joy to behold.
West Ham will no doubt point to the erroneous award of a corner which led to the first goal, but they may also care to ponder on the ease with which James Tarkowski was allowed to head the aforementioned corner into the path of Ashley Barnes, who gratefully prodded the ball home.
Shortly afterwards, a delicious left wing cross by Dwight McNeill homed in precisely onto the head of Chris Wood, who did what all good centre forwards do, and steered his header downwards into the corner of the net.
Great goal, right? Wrong. The goal was peevishly ruled out by the VAR slide rule; a beautiful passage of play denied by tedious geometry.
The whole process of checking and re-checking whether or not Wood’s chest hair was beyond the last Hammers’ defender took an age to calculate and, given that neither Wood nor the defender he was deemed to be in advance of could have done anything different to what they did do; surely it is time for common sense to prevail and something equivalent to the “umpire’s call” in cricket to be applied when the margin is so tight.
No matter, shortly afterwards Wood got his goal, when McNeill robbed a slumbering Hammers’ defender and fed Wood for an easy finish from about ten yards.
Happily, Burnley did not rest on their two goal lead, they continued to press forward through the second half and duly delivered a third goal when Ashley Westwood’s in-swinging corner was deflected into the goal off West Ham goalkeeper Roberto’s flailing fist.
It was a calamitous piece of goalkeeping from the keeper deputising for the injured Fabianski, but he did go on to at least partially redeem himself with three good saves as Burnley rained pressure down on the West Ham goal.
Three-nil is an emphatic and comprehensive victory but if anything it understated the extent of Burnley’s dominance. The defence, with Charlie Taylor and Phil Bardsley restored to the full-back berths, was sound although not seriously tested.
Jack Cork, Jeff Hendrick and Ashley Westwood buzzed around the midfield winning second balls with relative ease.
The Bruise Brothers aka Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood were reunited and back to their rampaging best up-front; but the star of the show was undoubtedly Dwight McNeill.
Burnley’s young left winger is learning rapidly in the rarefied atmosphere of the Premier League. His close control at rapid pace is a nightmare for defenders to deal with and he has now developed the requisite awareness and vision to fashion chances for himself and for the two strikers.
There are rumours that Manchester United, amongst other clubs, have been casting covetous glances in McNeill’s direction and it may well be that his talents will one day outgrow Burnley, but surely not yet. Let all Clarets fans enjoy this young man’s skills for a little longer.
Written by a relieved, but regular contributor to Clarets Mad, Dave Thornley. (TEC).