Palace lose ground to Burnley in Euro quest as forward failings again scupper ambitions
Crystal Palace 0 Burnley 1
Palace’s familiar struggle to find the net undermined their hopes of stealing a place in Europe next season as they lost ground to one of the sides in the mix for a top eight finish.
There was not much to choose between the sides at Selhurst Park’s first behind-closed-doors match since the restart, but arguably the visitors showed greater purpose and belief in what they were doing.
Not enough chances were created by Roy Hodgson’s men, although they finally piled some pressure on late in the proceedings.
Ben Mee’s diving header on 62 minutes from a free-kick on the right from Ashley Westwood – stooping ahead of James McCarthy to get there first – was enough to give the Clarets the points.
But the winner was something Vicente Guaita should have dealt with. The keeper, back in for Wayne Hennessey after recovering from injury, threw a feeble left hand at it, but could only help it onto a post and over the line.
Both sides seemed liberated by not having to play either Liverpool or Man City – they were each in turn comprehensively marmalised in visits to the Premier League’s dominant duo last midweek.
Burnley in particular seemed to enjoy the chance to actually have some possession again – you don’t get much at the Etihad - and looked confident, in spite of injury concerns which meant the absence of some key players and a less-than-full complement of named subs.
Dwight McNeil looked menacing and tested Guaita with one effort from distance after a run from deep, moments after an in-swinging corner had almost given the Clarets the lead with the Eagles struggling to clear.
Palace had Wilfried Zaha in the line-up, back soon after the early departure through injury in the 4-0 loss at Anfield. But it was a frustrating night for the winger who failed to open up a resolute Burnley defence.
Jordan Ayew gave Nick Pope some work to do with a decent effort from distance. James McArthur headed a Joel Ward cross just over and the vociferous tones of assistant Ray Lewington – sounding as if he were in a prizefighter’s corner - bellowed across the field, urging Palace to keep upping the tempo. Zaha took advantage of a break in play to tell Burnley boss to ‘Shut up and sit down.’
But clearcut chances were predictably at a premium – Palace having made a habit of largely taking goals off the menu during first halves this season.
Gary Cahill might have broken the deadlock in the second half after sweeping an Ayew backheel goalwards, but his shot lacked the power and direction to worry Pope unduly. And it was quite a while before there was another chance of note – Andros Townsend curling just over from outside the box.
By then, Burnley had taken the lead and looked increasingly confident as the Eagles struggled to impose themselves. With the game entering its final 15 minutes, there were at last a few signs of life, with Scott Dann heading just over at a short corner and the home side finally worked up a head of steam to apply a bit of pressure.
Cahill, sent into the attack for the final flurry, flicked a glancing header at a Max Meyer delivery and it had Pope scrambling but by now we were in injury time and Mee, along with partner James Tarkowski at the heart of the back four, seldom looked like yielding.
Line up: Guaita – Ward, Dann, Cahill, van Aanholt – Milivojevic – Townsend (Meyer 78), Kouyate (McCarthy h/t), McArthur, Zaha – Ayew. Subs not used: Sakho, Hennessey, Woods, Tavares, Mitchell, Pierrick, Riedewald