Dyche hails his Burnley grafters as Mee keeps European dream alive
Trailing by a goal with around 20 minutes remaining, Crystal Palace’s coaching staff desperately needed to find a way to change the game.
What sort of tactical tinkering could they conjure up? What subtle tweaks might bring them level? The answer came from Ray Lewington, the Palace assistant manager, whose instructions were clear for all to hear in an empty Selhurst Park. “F------ get a cross in,” he told the Palace players, “and f------ get in there.”
And who said the Premier League has lost touch with reality? This was football at its most raw, with two full-blooded teams going after each other with aggression, attrition and even occasional technical quality, especially from the visitors.
As it turned out, it was Burnley who put the crucial cross in, and Ben Mee who successfully “got in there”. Mee’s second-half header, from Ashley Westwood’s free-kick, brought the game’s only goal and moved Burnley up into eighth place, level on points with Tottenham Hotspur. All of a sudden, another European adventure does not seem quite so fanciful for Sean Dyche’s depleted side.
Europe is probably now out of reach for Palace, who started the night level on points with Burnley, although Roy Hodgson will know this game could have swung either way. After a sluggish start, Palace forged enough chances, but they could not make the breakthrough against a Burnley side who defended with typical determination. Burnley’s rise up the table is made all the more impressive by issues behind the scenes, where Dyche’s relationship with chairman Mike Garlick has become strained.
It is having no visible impact on the players, though, despite contract issues and injuries. They had only seven on their bench again, but their alarming lack of senior bodies seemed to bring out the best in those on the pitch. It was striking to hear how vocal they were, constantly talking and organising.
Given the circumstances, Dyche said, it was one of his “biggest results” as the club’s manager. “We have a side that does not make excuses. They know we are thin on players, but we are not making mistakes. We are working hard.”
The accepted view of these teams is that they, along with Sheffield United, represent the more agricultural side of the top flight. Defensively solid, robust, always horrible to play against. No one can argue that their respective styles are not effective – just look at the table.
The “long ball” tag can feel a little harsh, not least in the opening exchanges here, when Burnley passed imaginatively from the back. “Some of our football was excellent,” Dyche said.
Burnley were organised and ready for the threat of Wilfried Zaha, who found himself up against two or three visiting players every time he received the ball. Palace improved after the break, although they could have lost Jordan Ayew to a red card when he swung an elbow at Josh Brownhill.
Just as Burnley appeared to be on the back foot, they took the lead. Westwood’s free-kick was met by Mee, whose header was diverted in off the post, via Vicente Guaita’s palm. “We had opportunities around their area which could so easily have led to their goal,” said Hodgson. The best of those fell to Gary Cahill, whose shot was weak, and Andros Townsend, who went close from range.