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1718 burnley turf moor 04 1000x500Burnley fans were given something to cheer yesterday as the Clarets ended 2018 with a 2-0 home win against West Ham United, a performance so far removed from the Boxing Day defeat against Everton it was hard to take in.

I think we all wondered just how Sean Dyche might shuffle his pack for this game. Without the likes of Robbie Brady, Steven Defour and Aaron Lennon, there wasn’t much he could do, or so we thought, but he made no fewer than five changes to the team which brought a change of formation and a performance, the likes of which I think we’d all forgotten we were capable of.

All five of those stepping into the team played their part, but it was the return of club captain Tom Heaton and the inclusion of 19-year-old Dwight McNeil that proved to be the major talking points in a game where, no matter which way you look at it, the 2-0 scoreline flattered West Ham.

A 2:15 p.m. kick off wasn’t ideal for us but it was put back to ensure West Ham, who found it necessary to fly back from Southampton to London last Thursday, had enough recovery time. Saturday had been a strange day football wise with Sky not actually bothering to screen any English football, adding to all the confusion I always suffer around Christmas in never knowing what day it actually is.

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But I was at the Turf early and ready for this one even though, like most Clarets, I was finding it difficult to have too much confidence, still stunned by the inept performance I’d seen against Everton. I’m not sure whether some of the team news helped as Heaton, Phil Bardsley, Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson, McNeil and Chris Wood were all named in the starting eleven with Joe Hart, Ben Gibson, Jeff Hendrick and Sam Vokes all left out alongside Matt Lowton who was serving a one match ban for collecting five yellow cards.

McNeil was a major surprise I would think to most of us. He started games earlier in the season, including one in the Premier League. He’d come on against Everton but I don’t think we could have expected him to be given a start.

Was Heaton’s recall a surprise? I think yes, but I think this was the one change that was crucial. This is not a criticism of Joe Hart at all but there has been a clamour for change in goal, more so since Everton, and Heaton leading out the team, I thought, would give the whole ground a lift.

I spoke to one older Burnley supporter in the bus station on my way. He admitted to being in need of some alcohol (I’m only joking but I know he reads these reports so I’m sure he’ll recognise himself). It was more some early lunch for me, something exotic like egg, sausage, chips and beans washed down with a good cup of tea.

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The plate was just being emptied when the team news was confirmed. There seemed genuine excitement right across the cafe that Tom was back and when he led the team out just before kick off, his was the name being called from the stands. And that was followed by a massive show of support for Sean Dyche that you might not have found believable had you read some of what’s been written since Boxing Day.

West Ham had all the big guns out, including Felipe Anderson, their match winner at Southampton, and fit again Marko Arnautovic, but neither were to offer much in a game we dominated and should have won by more.

Sometimes a team needs a lift from the crowd and sometimes it is the reverse. I think we’d reached the stage with both vital and it was evident right from the start as we immediately got on top with the Turf Moor crowd roaring the team on.

It took us just a quarter of an hour to get in front but that opening goal might have come sooner as Burnley were so much on top right from the start with JBG and McNeil having an influence down the flanks. McNeil set up Ashley Barnes who fired just wide, and that was the best of the chances before the first goal came.

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Heaton had been forced into one routine save but it was his alertness to danger that started the move for the opening goal. He came out to his 18-yard-line to head a ball clear which found Ashley Westwood. McNeil and Jack Cork both got involved before Westwood played a delightful ball up to Barnes. His cushioned header was just right for Wood who gave Lukasz Fabianski no chance with a right foot shot.

It was probably no surprise, despite his lack of goals this season, that Wood got his name on the scoresheet. It’s the fourth time he’s played for us against West Ham and he’s scored in all four, including a brace down at the London Stadium last season. The two this season against them are his only goals in the Premier League in 2018/19. It was also his 99th career league goal.

It was all Burnley now. Ben Mee headed over from a corner, McNeil had a shot blocked. Could we get that all important second goal? We could, and what a moment it was for McNeil. He came in on the left to get onto a ball in from James Tarkowski which eventually found itself back out on the right. When West Ham gave it away to Westwood, his cross was met by McNeil and this time he buried it.

“He’s one of our own,” sang the Burnley fans for the 19-year-old who has been with us since leaving Manchester United at the age of 14. He’s the first teenager to score a Premier League goal for us and the first teenager to net a top flight goal since Derrick Parker scored in the final game of the 1975/76 season.

He might have had another when Barnes set him up but his shot went wide so we went in at half time with a 2-0 lead having outplayed West Ham.

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Two probably should have become three early in the second half. Wood missed two opportunities either side of a Fabianski save from Barnes as Burnley continued to dominate. Would we pay for it? Could West Ham get back into it? The emphatic answer was no although Heaton twice saved from Andy Carroll.

The first was routine; the second, close to the end, was sensational. Somehow he reacted quickly enough to tip the ball onto the bar before eventually going down to collect it. With that there was the most incredible reaction around Turf Moor, a real sign of what the home fans think of him.

It was all over now. West Ham had been well and truly hammered by the home Clarets. This was the Burnley we’ve been desperate to see for some time. This was the sort of performance that had us rocking up towards the top of the league a year ago and it was so refreshing to see.

It’s so hard to pinpoint it. I do think the return of Heaton played a massive part but there were big performances right across the pitch and it seems almost unfair to single anyone out. This was a team performance, a big team performance. It’s done no more than lift us back above Fulham into 18th place, still in the relegation positions. But it’s also given us hope that we are capable of getting out of the mess we have found ourselves in.

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Was it the best performance of the season? I’d say so. Now we need more of it and then more again to lift us up that table, and that starts at Huddersfield in two days time.

What a way to end the year.

The teams were;

Burnley: Tom Heaton, Phil Bardsley, James Tarkowski, Ben Mee, Charlie Taylor, Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson, Ashley Westwood, Jack Cork, Dwight McNeil, Ashley Barnes, Chris Wood (Sam Vokes 90+1). Subs not used: Joe Hart, Kevin Long, Ben Gibson, Ali Koiki, Jeff Hendrick, Matěj Vydra.
Yellow Card: Ashley Barnes.

West Ham: Lucasz Fabianski, Michail Antonio, Issa Diop, Angelo Ogbonna, Aaron Cresswell, Robert Snodgrass (Grady Diangana ht), Declan Rice, Mark Noble, Felipe Anderson, Marko Arnautovic (Xande Silva 73), Lucas Pérez (Andy Carroll ht). Subs not used: Adrián, Arthur Masuaku, Conor Coventry, Pedro Obiang.
Yellow Cards: Robert Snodgrass, Mark Noble, Andy Carroll, Declan Rice.

Referee: David Coote

Attendance: 20,933.

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