Crystal Palace 0 Burnley 1
Somehow, ridiculously, the Burnley bus trundles on, however many wheels keep falling off it. It has been a turbulent week for them: one that began with a chastening 5-0 defeat at the Etihad Stadium, and has taken in an injury crisis, a brewing storm between manager Sean Dyche and chairman Mike Garlick over expiring contracts and transfer investment, and a pitched battle against the racist elements of their own fanbase.
And yet, at the end of it, they sit eighth in the Premier League: level on points with Tottenham, within touching distance of European football.
A header by the captain, Ben Mee, on the hour was enough to seal all three points for them here against a poor Crystal Palace. Truly, this is a club continuing to defy not just gravity, not just sporting economics, but occasionally even simple logic.
It is, perhaps, a testament to the sound fundamentals of the club, however uncertain the future, however frail the squad. Dyche deserves plenty of credit for again devising a solid game plan designed to neuter Palace’s multiple attacking threats. Above all, however, tribute needs to be played to the players, and particularly the indomitable back five.
Most of them were playing their third game in a week, and as Palace threw wave after wave at them in the closing minutes, their thirst for the grapple, the desperate deflection, the must-win header, the anatomy-threatening block, was again astonishing. James Tarkowski was probably the standout, but in truth they all played their part: a footballing brick wall that has allowed this modest-sized club to punch well above their threadbare resources.
Again, Dyche was able to fill only five of his eight outfield substitute berths. Injury to Jay Rodriguez left Matej Vydra leading the line as the only fit senior forward, and from the off Burnley's approach revolved around hitting him early, and then using their tireless midfield runners – particularly the slippery Dwight McNeil at No 10 – to forage on the second balls.
Initially, McNeil looked the likeliest player on either side to create something. Quick, eager to roam and always showing for the ball, McNeil is the sort of one-man creative hub you so rarely see at the bigger clubs these days, with their all-star casts, their strictly delineated roles, their endlessly rotated squads (Jack Grealish and Wilfried Zaha, his opposite number here, also spring to mind). Most of what Burnley did well seemed to go through him.
It was McNeil's mesmerising run that provided the first half's only real moment of grace: weaving past Luka Milivojevic, striding half the length of the field, and let down only by a weak shot. In terms of chances or indeed intrigue, it was pretty thin gruel.
James McArthur was probably Palace’s best player, linking well with the returning Zaha and heading just over from Joel Ward’s brilliant cross.
Overall, though, the impression was of two teams pushing themselves through the pain barrier, and determined to put everyone else through a similar experience.
The second half began in an agreeably spicier temper. Jordan Ayew was fortunate to escape a red card after the VAR decided to take another look at his forearm smash on Josh Brownhill. Ayew himself was then punitively fouled by Tarkowski on the edge of the area, with Milivojevic forcing a save from Nick Pope with the free-kick. But after an inert first half, Palace were just threatening to take a grip.
Which is why the timing of Burnley's goal was so crucial. It was another petty foul, this time on McNeil by James McCarthy, who had replaced Cheikhou Kouyaté at half-time. From the resulting free-kick, Mee dived in ahead of Gary Cahill and diverted the ball brilliantly past Vicente Guaita at the near post: a header with the control and guile of a Van Basten volley. Perhaps Guaita might have done a little better with it. But now Burnley, whose record defending leads has been exemplary this season, had a golden chance to lock down the game and the three points.
As Dyche seized the opportunity to add an extra defender in Kevin Long, Roy Hodgson rang the changes in attack. Andros Townsend was withdrawn for Max Meyer, seconds after putting one of his trademark left-footed scunners into the stand, and the hitherto ineffective Zaha was moved into the centre.
Chances came, too: Milivojevic put a simple header over the bar, Ayew failed to bring the ball down six yards out. But saltily and heroically, Burnley held firm. – Guardian