DWIGHT McNeil can act as a 'reference point' for the rest of the Clarets academy, according to boss Jon Pepper.

The academy manager has seen the 18-year-old progress through the ranks and catch the eye this term with a first start in the Europa League tie with Olympiakos and then a first Premier League start against Manchester United.

McNeil's progress has put him on England's radar and he spent last week training with the Under-20s before returning to Burnley to fire in a goal at Leeds as the Clarets' Under-23s drew 2-2 at Elland Road on Friday.

The former Manchester United youngster is enjoying a breakthrough season at Turf Moor and Pepper said: "It’s a massive boost for the academy.

"Dwight played a lot of Under-23s football last year and he’s really taken to playing first-team football and training with the first-team.

"He’s had a lot of faith from the first-team staff and the manager. It’s great to see one of the academy lads playing in the Premier League."

Jay Rodriguez was the last player to progress from the Clarets academy to become a first team regular, but Pepper is hoping McNeil's success can inspire others trying to make the grade at Turf Moor.

"It’s a reference point for us all, for the staff and the players, they can see one of their own getting through, they can see there’s a pathway," he said.

"It is difficult to get a lad into the Premier League nowadays, so it helps get a little bit of extra out of the Under-23s squad.

"Everyone within the academy, even the staff who are working with the younger players who might not get a lot of recognition when they’re working with the schoolboys, it gives them real hope and motivation to work harder with those boys at that level.

"It’s fantastic, all credit to Dwight, he’s handled himself well, he’s applied himself well. We’ve seen him over the last few years and the performance he’s put in and I think there’s more to come from him."

Pepper has been in charge of the Under-23s since Michael Duff left to take over as Cheltenham manager and he has also seen the academy progress to category two on the Elite Player Performance Plan.

Attaining that status was a big commitment from the club and McNeil's progress hints that it may well be worth it in the long run.

"It is significant, the club have operated a category three academy over the last few years, then we decided to go category two, so that investment is a massive step for the club," said Pepper.

"Now they can see the rewards for that. It’s short-term, we’ve only been category two for a year, but hopefully longer-term there will be more and more coming through and the academy really helps support the first team."

And Pepper insists McNeil's success this year is unlikely to faze him as he bids for most first team action during the remainder of the campaign.

"He's very level-headed, grounded," the academy chief said.

"I think the fact that he's been with the first team training throughout pre-season, he's had a lot of support from the staff.

"Michael Duff has been integral with his transition in to the first team, he's constantly had that mentor to support him. Michael has been with him in pre-season and with him during Europa League games."