Burnley moved to within touching distance over the European places with a 1-0 win over Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park on Monday evening.
In a game starved of clear cut opportunities, Ashley Westwood’s wicked, in-swinging corner and Dwight McNeil’s driving run and strike from the edge of the box were the Clarets’ only moments of note in the first half, while at the other end, James McArthur was unable to cleanly connect with a dangerous Joel Ward cross.
The deadlock was eventually broken just after the hour mark, as Vicente Guaita failed to keep out Ben Mee’s flying header from Westwood’s free kick.
Palace were much improved in the second half, Jordan Ayew heading over from Zaha’s short corner and Nick Pope tipping Luka Milivojevic’s effort around the post, but they could not find a way past a stubborn Burnley side, who leapfrog Palace into eighth in the Premier League.
Key Talking Point
Palace never really got going in the first half. Wilfried Zaha, so often relied upon as their greatest creative asset, was quiet and isolated. Neither Zaha or Andros Townsend ever really got at Phil Bardsley and Charlie Taylor down either flank.
Palace improved in the second half and put the Burnley defence under a little bit of pressure, but whenever they found themselves in the attacking third there was a lack of intensity and impetus. There was no urgency and no attempt to really probe the Burnley backline.
Pope saved comfortably from Ayew in the first half and Gary Cahill in the second, but other than palming Milivojevic’s effort round the post late on the Burnley keeper enjoyed a quiet evening.
Starting XI: Guaita (5), Ward (6), Dann (7*), Cahill (6) van Aanholt (6), McArthur (5) Milivojevic (6), Kouyate (5), Townsend (6), Zaha (5), Ayew (5)
Subs: McCarthy (5), Meyer (5)
In a performance devoid of creative spark, the Palace player of the match was always going to go to a defender. Dann produced two crucial first half headers – the first to clear a dangerous, whipped in cross, the second to head over McNeil’s goal-bound effort – in a characteristically solid performance from the Palace centre half.
In possession he was calm and composed, confidently playing out from the back despite Burnley pressing high up the pitch in the first half.
Key Talking Point
Burnley are down to the bare bones, with just seven substitutes named on the bench, and Matej Vydra their only fit striker. Allowing Jeff Hendrick’s contract to run down has been a particular source of frustration for Sean Dyche, raising question marks about the Burnley boss’ future.
Despite their stretched squad, the Clarets were much the better side in the first half. Josh Brownhill and Dwight McNeil both looked lively for Burnley and carried their greatest attacking spark, and although the absence of Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes was felt, Dyche’s side found a way to win.
Burnley attacked with an intensity and energy but at times lacked a physical presence and cutting edge in the final third that the injured Wood and Barnes so often provide. Their goal unsurprisingly came from a set piece – a brave header from Mee – and by successfully keeping Zaha quiet, it was a deserved three points for the visitors.
Starting XI: Pope (7), Taylor (7), Tarkowski (6), Mee (7), Bardsley (6), Cork (6), Brownhill (8), McNeil (8*), Westwood (7), Pieters (6), Vydra (6)
Subs: Long (6)
The attacking midfielder put in an energetic display and offered Burnley a splash of quality in the final third. He was everything Palace were lacking. Playing just behind Vydra, his quick feet, balance and fearlessness enabled him to ride challenges and run at the Palace backline.
McNeil’s directness and willingness to take players on paid dividends in the second half when James McCarthy brought him down after another darting run. From the resulting free kick, Mee opened the scoring.