Burnley back on song as Dyche’s changes pay off against off-colour Hammers
Tom Heaton started in goal for the hosts as Joe Hart dropped to the bench.
Burnley rediscovered some of their old swagger as they brushed aside West Ham 2-0 to ease their relegation worries.
Chris Wood got his now customary strike against the Hammers before the outstanding 19-year-old Dwight McNeil bagged his first Premier League goal – both inside the opening 35 minutes.
Four days after they were thrashed 5-1 here by Everton, Burnley looked resolute at the back and confident going forward as they secured only their second win since the start of October, offering reminders of why they were playing their way into Europe this time last year.
Sean Dyche rung the changes in the wake of that Boxing Day defeat, dropping goalkeeper Joe Hart to the bench and handing Tom Heaton his first Premier League start in 15 months and the captain’s armband.
But it was the introduction of McNeil, making only his second league start of the season, and Johann Berg Gudmundsson into midfield that had the bigger impact as the pair drove Burnley forward from the start.
Ashley Barnes shot narrowly wide from McNeil’s cross inside two minutes, setting the tone for a first half in which the hosts were consistently on top.
The breakthrough came after quarter-of-an-hour when Ashley Westwood sent a long ball forward and Barnes headed it down for Wood to fire home. It was the New Zealander’s fifth goal in four Premier League games against the Hammers.
That only lifted the already buoyant atmosphere inside Turf Moor and Burnley continued to push forward, with Issa Diop making a crucial block to shut down McNeil after another driving run from Gudmundsson.
Burnley doubled their lead in the 34th minute as West Ham failed to clear their lines and Westwood’s deep cross towards the far post found McNeil sliding in to apply the finish.
It might have been three when Barnes cut the ball back for McNeil seven minutes before the break, but he could not get his foot around the ball and sent it just wide.
Manuel Pellegrini swapped Lucas Perez for Andy Carroll at the break, hoping for a shift in momentum, but West Ham could and probably should have been 3-0 down before most fans had taken their seats.
Barnes broke the offside trap and pulled the ball back for Wood, but, as he prepared for an easy tap-in, Angelo Ogbonna made a brilliant challenge to turn the ball away.
Minutes later the two reversed roles as Wood crossed for Barnes, with Lukasz Fabianski’s point-blank save keeping the Hammers in it.
The chances kept coming as Westwood played in Wood, but, with Fabianski racing out, he poked the ball wide.
West Ham finally began to come out of their shell as the game opened up, but they struggled to test Heaton until a curling effort from Carroll in the 66th minute which the goalkeeper held low to his right.
Substitute Xande Silva saw a shot deflect narrowly wide and Heaton then made an outstanding save to push Carroll’s header on to the crossbar in the dying minutes.
But the day belonged to Burnley as West Ham, who began the match looking for a fourth consecutive away win, left empty-handed.