Sean Dyche’s squad is the least glittering in the league and the financial restrictions under which he must try and work are suffocating. It was clear, as Burnley burst out of the dressing room onto the pitch, racing around, pressing with venom, that Dyche had instructed his team to try and shock West Ham into conceding early, getting a leg up before the Hammers realised they were the better team. It was a ploy that was inches away from working perfectly, when George Boyd, a deadline day arrival, struck the crossbar with a snap shot.
But in spite of their effort, and the host of chances their hopeful energy created, Burnley were unable to get their noses in front. The first 10 minutes was a flurry, like a boxer swinging wildly in the opening round, but the wild haymakers were missing, as I said, by inches. West Ham, keenly observing the 5 D’s of dodgeball (dodge, duck, dip, dive and…dodge) managed to survive the furious outset and threatened a handful of times on the counter. Diafra Sakho, having previously scored in 4 consecutive games for West Ham, should have done so again in the first half when he put a point-blank header wide from about 6 yards. But Burnley were unable to grasp the match, and neither Danny Ings nor Lukas Jutkiewicz could find a way to get on the end of the plethora of stinging crosses swept in by Burnley’s full back Keiran Trippier. His delivery was consistently excellent all afternoon, but apart from one Ings header that missed, again, by inches in the second half, all of his red-hot crosses from deep weren’t capitalised on.
You felt that West Ham simply needed to survive, wait until Burnley slowed a little, and the chance to impose themselves would come. But it didn’t come until the second half, and Allardyce’s team talk during the break no doubt spurred them into action. Allardyce also spoke after the match about a tactical change that allowed his team to dominate the second period.
“A change of system was the key element for us winning the game, which then brought outstanding quality from us in wide areas. Our two centre-forwards that we bought paid massive dividends with the quality of the headers off brilliant crosses, and that, in the end, put Burnley to bed, after they had a very lively first half.”
Indeed, Aaron Cresswell and Carl Jenkinson, the West Ham full backs, were responsible for the outstanding dual interventions that won West Ham the match, combining beautifully with the two new strikers Sakho and Enner Valencia. Cresswell hasn’t grabbed as much attention as the free-scoring Sakho, or the all-action Kouyate, or the other signings, but the former Ipswich man has been utterly dependable since arriving at Upton Park, secure when defending and dangerous going forward. It was his cross that set up Sakho to continue his remarkable run of goals, and the Senegalese striker could barely miss such was the pearlescent perfection of Cresswell’s delivery. It was a relieved puncturing of the deadlock, and West Ham then stepped up their play, showing Burnley exactly how taking chances wins you games, not that it needs reassertion, really.
Valencia made it 2-0 with a thunderous header, a real bullet, from Jenkinson’s accurate cross from the right. Having bagged three goals for Ecuador over the international break, Valencia showed his exceptional ability in the air, despite standing under 6 foot. Though Burnley grabbed a goal back through George Boyd five minutes later, substitute Carlton Cole made the game safe in the 70th minute. Burnley finished the game despondent and exhausted, and will bitterly regret their inability score first.
West Ham deserved to win, with Alex Song and Mark Noble controlling the game with ease and authority in the second half. Stewart Downing again showed how wonderful he can be in his new central role, and with the pace and skill of his strikers around him. He almost capped his display with what would have been a stupendous goal, but his powerful drive flew just wide. James Collins, in for the injured James Tomkins, looked reluctant to differ from his old modus operandi, that of slinging long balls up to the front man, especially when Cole came on for Valencia. But even this rudimentary method (one which the fans won’t welcome) has been improved by Allardyce’s new signings, because, as opposed to Kevin Nolan, Sakho is blessed with pure, ferocious pace and even late in the game he was seen doggedly pursuing, and winning, knockdowns. The Andy Carroll/Nolan combo is so much less dynamic so, like most of the other aspects of Allardyce’s side, the injection of Valencia, Sakho and a renewed Downing has revitalised even the least attractive methods of the old Allardyce.
Again Dyche ended his afternoon frustrated by the result, and the good performance his team initially offered gave him no comfort. A requiem might be sounding for Burnley, unless they can somehow turn their admirable effort into results. Unfortunately, it’s the presence of true quality, the type that top dollar buys, that sparks that alchemical reaction, and that wins games like this one. Burnley have been forced to try and survive without that quality, and it may be too much to think they’ll be able to.