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Dwight McNeil has credited a switch in position under caretaker boss Mike Jackson for helping to rejuvenate his game when it matters most to relegation-battling Burnley.
The 22-year-old admitted this season’s statistics – no goals and one assist – are poor by the lofty standards he has set himself in the four years since he broke into the side, but he has definitely been one to have benefitted from the shackles coming off since Sean Dyche left the club last month.
The left-footed player has shifted to the right side under Jackson and has been able to make more of an impact.
“I’ve been given the license more and I’m just enjoying my football again which is nice,” McNeil said.
“There are more opportunities drifting inside, more opportunities to play inside and I can still go on the outside. It gives me more license to get on the ball.
“I know my stats for me personally are below par but I think I’m starting to find myself in better positions and impacting the game more.”
Jackson has tended to downplay the extent of the tactical changes he has made since taking over from Dyche, but the players have spoken extensively of enjoying more freedom under the under-23s boss.
And the credit for switching McNeil’s position definitely belongs to the caretaker coaching staff.
“They came to me with the idea which I really enjoyed hearing,” McNeil said. “Obviously I want to take on the challenge and I think I can be more versatile and help out on the pitch.
“It’s a big respect to them for trusting me in that position and I just keep on doing what I’m doing.”
In his first interview since his sacking last month, Dyche this week admitted Burnley had perhaps lost their edge towards the end of his near-decade long reign.
McNeil was arguably the most obvious example. A player who Dyche brought through and gave a debut to while still a teenager seemed to be suffering a crisis of confidence before being benched for the crunch game against Everton.
McNeil admitted it had been a new experience for him given how quickly his star has risen since he made his debut four years ago this week.
“I think this season has been the hardest for me personally,” he said. “I’ve started to come through the other side. I know this is one of the first blips I’ve had in my career.
“I know things aren’t always going to go your way. That’s when you really need to stick at it. The first thing is to try to help your team and worry about yourself afterwards.”
After taking 10 points from Jackson’s first four games in charge, Burnley suffered a setback last Saturday with a 3-1 home defeat to Aston Villa. That leaves them level on points with a game in hand on 18th-placed Leeds going into the weekend and a tough trip to face Tottenham.
“For me personally in my short career so far, this is the biggest challenge I’ve had,” McNeil added of the relegation fight.
“But I’m looking forward to it as well. As a team, we know we weren’t picking up points but before the last game, the four games before that were fantastic – 10 points from four games says a lot about the group and the character we’ve got.”