McNeil pivotal once again as Clarets rise to ninth


As Burnley rose up to ninth in the Premier League table, Dwight McNeil was typically impressive for the Clarets.

McNeil seemed his relaxed self as Burnley walked out amongst the bubbles at the London Stadium, the 20-year-old sharing a joke with teammates ahead of kick-off.

McNeil isn’t your conventional winger. He’s six feet tall and repeatedly engages in aerial duels, but the Rochdale-born man continues to be one of the Premier League’s most exciting young talents.

Often imposing themselves on the opposition by utilising their physical superiority, McNeil falls perfectly into Sean Dyche’s plans by complimenting the intent of forwards Ashley Barnes and Chris Wood.

This usual strikeforce was missing in East London, the slightly less imposing duo Jay Rodriguez and Matej Vydra in charge of leading the Clarets line.

The interchanging of McNeil and left-back Charlie Taylor was clear from the opening ten minutes. Burnley’s number 11 found himself in his familiar left midfield position, left-back and central midfield as he was allowed the freedom to roam around the pitch.

The unselfish nature of the 20-year-old was clear to see as former Leeds full-back Taylor was allowed to attack freely down the left flank, McNeil happy to cover his defensive duties.

It perhaps displays the characteristics that most attribute to a Burnley player, the club’s academy awarded category one status this week.

After two unsuccessful crosses, the winger started to find his range. An out-swinging free-kick found Vydra to glance towards goal but the Czech’s effort was comfortable for Lukasz Fabianski.

A sprint towards a seemingly lost cause prompted a booming round of applause from Sean Dyche, his typically croaky ‘well done, Dwight’ heard from the top row of the London Stadium’s press box.

After blocking Tomas Soucek’s effort, McNeil charged 30 yards to try and get the rebound. Despite a valiant attempt, West Ham reclaimed possession and Soucek’s header from the resulting cross was brilliantly kept out by Nick Pope.

West Ham were firmly on top during the first half, the Hammers’ attacks coming down Burnley’s right-hand side occupied by the less frequent and more defensive partnership of Phil Bardsley and Erik Pieters.

Despite the host’s dominance, Burnley took the lead on 38 minutes. McNeil received the ball in field and fed wide to Taylor. The full-back crossed for Rodriguez to attack and glance a header off the underside of the bar and in.

McNeil’s positioning was crucial in creating the space for Taylor to exploit. By coming inside and occupying the centre, the gap open on the left-hand side allowed his full-back to have the space to receive the ball, take a touch and set himself before delivering a good delivery into the area.

The youngster was visibly delighted with the goal, piling into Jay Rodriguez and the rest of the Burnley huddle.

The demands he places on his teammates were evident just before the end of the half, when Josh Brownhill smashed clear under no pressure, McNeil flinging his arms skywards in frustration.

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‘Go on Dwight, go on Dwight’ were again the calls from Dyche as the winger drove at the West Ham defence early in the second half.

The chemistry between McNeil and the Burnley players was clear for all to see, the England under-21 international latching onto a back heel from Rodriguez to cross towards Vydra, the West Ham defence shakily clearing their lines.

There are still improvements to be made in the wingers game. McNeil’s runs towards the West Ham goal often proved fruitless. On occasions, he would wander into danger or fail to find a striker to link up with.

In spite of this, McNeil was rarely wasteful in these moments, recording 86 per cent pass completion and ensuring possession was often recycled in the hope of creating another opening.

At the other end, David Moyes had brought on club-record signing Sebastien Haller, the Frenchman failing to repay him by firing a guilt-edged chance wide moments later.

McNeil was involved in almost exclusively defensive actions by now, heading away a dangerous corner before again looking to drive his team forward on the turn at every opportunity.

He didn’t fancy the battle with Michail Antonio however, preferring to turn back rather than get into a foot race with the West Ham forward, who has impressed himself in recent weeks.

It was clear that pace was not the attribute that separated McNeil from other budding candidates in Burnley’s academy. Instead, his technique, ability to drive his team forward and general work-rate make him invaluable to Dyche’s men.

By playing a more defensive right-hand side of Bardsley and Pieters, McNeil is allowed the freedom to roam whilst Taylor creates chances from the space left in his absence.

Often receiving the ball on the half turn, the Englishman is then able to try and slide in a striker to score or play Taylor to cross.

Despite the effectiveness of the Taylor/McNeil partnership, Burnley did have some joy down the right-hand side when Bardsley crossed for substitute Wood to tap home, the goal ruled out by VAR for offside.

Wood was a constant threat for the Clarets and forced a good stop from Fabianski after springing the offside trap.

McNeil’s assured performance continued with another dribble which saw him travel 40 yards from one side of the pitch to the next. The pace or skill of the run wasn’t particularly impressive but the frequency and effectiveness of these forays, the Burnley winger comfortably completing the most dribbles of any player (four).

It was hard to remember many instances of the player losing possession, his lanky frame making it difficult for opponents to challenge or knock him off the ball.

As added time ticked away at the London Stadium, the youngster displayed his knowledge of the game by gaining a cheap foul, Declan Rice making minimal contact to send him bundling over.

As the final whistle blew, Burnley had earned the three points on offer.

McNeil’s performance typified all the elements that are so often praised by Sean Dyche, his industry could not be questioned and his ability to keep the ball and be effective in the key areas of the park were a menace to West Ham throughout.

Burnley are now firmly in the hunt for European football as they go above Spurs in the table tonight.

McNeil may have his own ambitions of an England call-up in the near future as a core group of young Englishman continue to emerge. And with the postponement of the Euros, it perhaps gives an opportunity for the 20-year-old to stake his claim.

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