Burnley boss Sean Dyche believes Dwight McNeil’s recent injury setback may have been a blessing in disguise as the England Under-21 winger gets back towards his best form. McNeil’s run of 71 consecutive Premier League appearances – 70 of them starts – was ended by a groin injury which sidelined him over Christmas and new year, but he has impressed since his return, getting an overdue first goal of the season in last week’s win over Aston Villa.
Sean Dyche said: “I think it was a rare injury that came at a good time. “I didn’t want to leave him out as he never showed signs of stopping with his work ethic. But it’s kind of given him a freshness and he’s popped back up again…I’ve been pleased with his performances. He’s continuing to learn how to affect games when he can. I like that, but he’s still a young player who is developing nicely.”
McNeil admitted last week his form over the first half of the season had left him frustrated. But he backed up his goal against Villa with the assist for Chris Wood’s winner moments later and Dyche has no doubts he can continue to be one of Burnley’s most creative outlets.
Sean Dyche added: “The only true rule I’ve ever given him is to smile and enjoy his football. Obviously I’ve given him tactical information, but the biggest thing of all is that I’ve said, ‘You’re a young man, love what you’re doing, love the game and love your performance’. As long as he’s doing that I’m happy with how he’s going. It sounds easy but it’s not easy. He’s still got a lot of pressure, a lot of outside noise, social media – all those things. You can never lose sight of enjoying playing in the Premier League. I want him to play with a smile as Brian Clough used to tell all the players at Forest. It’s not a literal thing, but it’s about having that enjoyment factor and edge to your performance.”
Burnley saw a three-game winning run ended by Chelsea on Sunday and the task gets no easier on Wednesday with Premier League leaders Manchester City in town. Burnley have recorded wins away to Arsenal and Liverpool this season to show what can be possible, but Dyche is under no illusions about the next challenge.
Sean Dyche said: “You always need things to go for you,” he said. “There are some things you can impress on the game, you need to play well and defend well, but you also need a decision or two to go with you. In the cup game (a 3-0 Carabao Cup defeat to City in September) we had two penalties not given. Afterwards, when I spoke with the powers that be they said, ‘Yeah, they were penalties’ and obviously it’s a massive help if you get two penalties. Ideally, you’d have a fully fit squad, which we haven’t got, and you need a quiet one from them.”
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