Burnley gained three vital points in their fight to escape the Premier League relegation zone, ending a three-game losing run with a comfortable victory over West Ham at Turf Moor.
Burnley boss Sean Dyche made five changes to the side thumped 5-1 by Everton on Boxing Day, including a recall for goalkeeper Tom Heaton in place of Joe Hart.
And they responded with Chris Wood deservedly putting them ahead with a right-footed finish from the left of the penalty area.
That arrived at the end of a sweeping move involving Heaton, Ashley Westwood, Dwight McNeil and Ashley Barnes, as Dyche’s team repeatedly carved through the visitors.
They pressed home their advantage before the interval, when 19-year-old McNeil turned in Westwood’s cross at the far post.
It was a disappointing end to a strong December for West Ham, who arrived in east Lancashire on the back of five wins from six games.
Despite the return of Marko Arnautovic, playing for the first time since injuring his hamstring at Cardiff on 4 December, Manuel Pellegrini’s side were sluggish throughout with their best chance, a header from substitute Andy Carroll, drawing a fine save from Heaton late on.
The only crumb of comfort for the Hammers was that both Wood and Barnes spurned several excellent opportunities after the break to make Burnley’s win more emphatic.
The win lifts Burnley above Fulham into 18th and level on points with 17th-placed Southampton, who lost to Manchester City.
Dyche returns to tried and tested formula
A run of six defeats from their last seven games has raised question marks over Dyche’s position for the first time in his six-year tenure.
While the club finished seventh in the Premier League last season, that success was largely constructed upon a solid defensive base.
In stark contrast, the Clarets defence has been porous this term – leaking 41 goals so far, two more than the entire 2017-18 campaign.
And with failed attempts to combat that problem including the deployment of five defenders in their last three matches – all ending in defeats – Dyche reverted to type with a 4-4-2 formation.
Wood and Barnes offered physicality in a two-man attack and club captain Heaton’s return to the line-up proved inspired.
Over 15 months had elapsed since Heaton dislocated his shoulder at Crystal Palace – the last time he featured in a league game for Burnley – but the 32-year-old exerted his influence on those in front of him, barking out instructions and providing organisation and leadership.
That contributed to West Ham managing just four shots on target and Heaton’s understanding with his team-mates was evident as he raced out of his goal in the 15th minute to instigate the move that ended with Wood’s goal.
Heaton positioned himself to calmly head the ball to Westwood under pressure from West Ham attackers, and he underscored a good day’s work by superbly tipping Carroll’s header on to the woodwork late on.
Hammers toil as Anderson fails to shine
A position just outside the top six felt like an implausible proposition for West Ham after they lost their opening four games but Pellegrini’s side had the opportunity to move up to seventh at kick-off.
Instead this turned into a second blip in an otherwise fruitful December, their other defeat this month, against Watford, also a 2-0 reverse.
Brazilian midfielder Felipe Anderson has played a principal role in West Ham’s upturn but he struggled to make an impact against well-drilled and determined opponents.
Anderson won just 31% of his duels and his passing accuracy was also below par at 64%. And with West Ham’s most creative player on the periphery it allowed Burnley to assume control.
Anderson was far from the only visiting player to underwhelm, though. Lucas Perez and Robert Snodgrass were withdrawn at half-time after ineffective displays, which contributed to the visitors managing just one shot in the first period.
The introduction of Carroll did add power and presence but the Hammers were unable to provide the aerial service he thrives on until the closing minutes.
Man of the match – Ashley Westwood (Burnley).
‘A couple of big decisions’ – what they said
Burnley manger Sean Dyche, speaking to Match of the Day: “It was never far away. I understand the thoughts of the fans and the balance between defending resolutely and finding those moments of real quality. When we are really at it we can find both and find wins against good Premier League sides.
“The thing I’m searching for is consistency because we’ve had it before. I decided to go back to a familiar shape today but then they’ve delivered within that.
“There were a couple of big decisions with Tom [Heaton] going back in for Joe [Hart]. But credit to Joe, he was the first to jump up at the end when Tom makes a great save. Dwight [McNeil] is a clever player who has some quality and ability. His family should take some pride in what he’s doing. He’ll get stronger and fitter and he’ll continue growing with the team.
“That last game [the 5-1 loss to Everton] wasn’t like us. We normally keep games tight and we came out on top with some real quality. That was a really pleasing sign today about what we want to do.”
West Ham boss Manuel Pellegrini: “It was frustrating because we wanted to win this game and had the chance to be seventh. We lacked energy to win it. We had a flight that arrived at 2am in the morning after playing Southampton.
“In defending, possession and attacking the team lacked energy. We improved a little bit more once we made changes.
“I was happy until two o’clock today. This was a game we were able to win – Burnley was in a bad moment but they played with intensity. Burnley recovered better because they had 30 or 35 hours’ more [rest].”
Wood’s hot streak against Hammers – the stats
- Burnley have won two of their last three home league games, more than they had in their previous 10 at Turf Moor (W1 D2 L7).
- West Ham have lost two of their last three Premier League games (W1), more than they had in their previous eight in the competition (W5 D2 L1).
- Burnley’s Tom Heaton kept a clean sheet on his first Premier League start in 476 days, last starting in the competition in September 2017 against Crystal Palace.
- Aged 19 years and 38 days, Dwight McNeil became the first ever teenager to score a Premier League goal for Burnley.
- Burnley striker Chris Wood has scored in all four of his Premier League appearances against West Ham, netting five goals in total.
- Wood’s five Premier League goals against West Ham account for 38% of his total strikes in the competition (5/13).
- Second-half substitute Andy Carroll was responsible for 45% of West Ham’s total shots in this match (5/11).
Burnley travel to face fellow strugglers Huddersfield on Wednesday, 2 January (19:45 GMT) while West Ham host Brighton at the London Stadium on the same evening (19:45).