Burnley leave Palace facing nervous finish as Andre Gray seals first away win
Burnley had been waiting almost two years for this sensation but, at last, they have an away win to savour in the Premier League and, with it, surely another season to enjoy plenty more. This was a wonderfully resilient display in south London, a performance forged on strong-arm defence and goalkeeping excellence, to check Crystal Palace’s recent momentum. Sean Dyche’s team are eight points off the cut-off with winnable games ahead. A fine campaign is close to being rewarded with survival.
The away form had been an anomaly for a team this organised, but that elusive first triumph on the road will have felt sweeter as a result. The last Burnley player to score a winning goal outside Turf Moor in the top flight had been Danny Ings at Aston Villa on the final day two seasons ago, a victory secured once resignation had already been confirmed. Here the honours fell to Ashley Barnes and the substitute Andre Gray on the counterattack, but the win owed more to the efforts of Tom Heaton, Michael Keane, James Tarkowski and the visitors’ tireless collective work-rate.
These teams had been travelling in opposite directions over recent weeks, but both had arrived here still casting glances over their shoulders at the scrap at the foot of the table. Burnley’s need had been the more pressing given that dismal recent run of one win in 11 league games and with their ranks depleted by the untimely loss of Joey Barton to an 18-month suspension. Yet, having weathered the home side’s initial burst of energy and flurry of corners, they sensed vulnerability at the heart of Palace’s defence. The hosts, stripped of Mamadou Sakho, Scott Dann and James Tomkins, and Yohan Cabaye’s class in midfield, could be unsettled and local anxiety exposed.
Their nerves spread far too quickly for comfort.
Burnley’s lead had been chiselled out early courtesy of a rare error in possession from Luka Milivojevic. Sam Vokes stole the ball, which was eventually fed wide to a galloping Stephen Ward. The full-back’s centre was initially miscontrolled by Barnes, though that merely served to wrong-foot Damien Delaney with the striker tucking home the loose ball from close range. The sight of a former Brighton player cupping his ears in front of the Holmesdale stand proved too much for one supporter who flung what appeared to be a cigarette lighter at the huddle of celebrating visiting players. It struck Tarkowski who required treatment, with the referee Bobby Madley alerting stadium security down by the dugouts before the restart.
That was hardly Burnley’s only opportunity amid Palace’s jittery defending.
Vokes would guide a header marginally wide before the break, and forced Wayne Hennessey into a fine stop with another after out-muscling Delaney.
Barnes, all aggressive running, thought he had scored a second after controlling Keane’s nod down with an arm, only for the referee, eventually, to penalise him for the offence. Palace, other than Milivojevic belting just wide and Wilfried Zaha being wrongly flagged for offside as he burst through, were disjointed, sluggish and offered little.
That assistant’s error had arguably spared Heaton a red card for upending the winger as he sprinted into the box, though the home side, even after draining games against Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur over the previous six days, had to offer more bite up front and cohesion at the back.
Frustration was taking hold, with Zaha booked for dissent and Sam Allardyce adopting the rather haggard look that he had worn so often earlier in the year. At least his team were more urgent in their approach, with Andros Townsend more influential down the left and Zaha, when the focus returned, offering nuisance value on the opposite flank.
Yet Burnley, for the most part, defended ruggedly. Heaton did wonderfully well to push away Delaney’s volley, thumped goalwards from the edge of the penalty area, while Tarkowski and Keane heaved to suffocate Christian Benteke’s threat. Other than forcing one first-half save, Palace’s leading scorer was marginalised with little to nothing he tried coming off. The introduction of Loïc Rémy in his stead represented a complete change in tactic, though Allardyce’s mood was hardly improved by the waving away of Zaha’s appeals for a penalty after Jon Flanagan’s challenge.
In truth, Palace’s pressure, laced as it was with exasperation, was too frantic and error-strewn, and there was always the likelihood that they would be caught on the break. Gray duly sprinted clear of a ragged backline to reach George Boyd’s pass five minutes from time to score inside Hennessey’s near-post and the long wait for an away win, spanning 23 months, was well and truly over.