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, a performance forged on strong-arm defence and goalkeeping excellence, to suffocate Crystal Palace’s momentum. Sean Dyche’s team are eight points off the cut-off with winnable games ahead. A fine campaign is tantalisingly close to being rewarded with survival.
The away form feels like an anomaly for a team this organised, but that elusive first triumph on the road will have felt sweeter for all the waiting. 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 relegation 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.
There were countless headed clearances and timely interceptions. Keane has been excellent all year so his display was perhaps to be expected, but Tarkowski was making a first Premier League start after 15 cameos off the bench. The former Oldham and Brentford defender was struck by a cigarette lighter flung from the home support in the Holmesdale stand – not the first time that offence has occurred from that area – as Burnley’s players celebrated their early lead.
“He wouldn’t have felt it, he’s got a big head,” Dyche said. “Look, Keano often gets the headlines, but Tarky was making his first start against a player like Christian Benteke, gets hit by a lighter and still retains his focus. He was absolutely outstanding.”
As were the entire backline. Time after time, Palace’s delivery ran aground on yellow shirts, with Benteke outnumbered and nullified and Wilfried Zaha whipped up into a frenzy of frustration on the flank. Once the home side’s anxiety had kicked in, there was no recovering composure. Without the reassurance of Mamadou Sakho at the back and Yohan Cabaye’s class in midfield, they were undermined at the end of a draining week. It came as no surprise to see George Boyd liberating Gray five minutes from time to sprint away from Damien Delaney and score emphatically inside Wayne Hennessey’s near-post.
That merely confirmed the worst for Palace. Their disjointed first-half display had given way to more frantic pressure late on, but they ended up infuriated by everything from Burnley’s refusal to wilt to the rather haphazard display from the referee. The focus was drawn to Zaha crumpling under Jon Flanagan’s challenge.
Sam Allardyce said: “He took Wilf’s heel, tackled him from behind and didn’t make contact with the ball so, in my opinion, it’s 100% a penalty. But I’m not sure the referee would have given anything today, inside or outside the box. There were some very strange decisions. Some really poor decisions.”
In truth, the real oversight had been made by a linesman when Zaha sprinted clear 15 minutes in to be clattered by Tom Heaton.
“Wilf’s gone through and is onside, and not just by a few inches … by a yard,” added Allardyce. “That’s a big turning point. An assistant referee puts his flag up and the goalkeeper upends Wilf, which is him sent off and them down to 10.” Heaton would save superbly from Delaney before the end. The goalkeeper is another gem in Burnley’s ranks.
In truth, an 11th home defeat for Palace told a familiar toothless story. This club are still on edge. Seven points clear with three games to play may seem comfortable, but the locals have seen that margin disappear in the final week of a Premier League campaign before to result in demotion. They were panicky here from the moment Luka Milivojevic surrendered possession early on to Sam Vokes. The ball was eventually fed wide to a galloping Stephen Ward and, even with the full-back’s centre initially miscontrolled by Barnes, the striker was still able to tuck home the opening goal from close range.
They created other opportunities, with Hennessey and Martin Kelly denying Vokes his own plunder, but needed only Gray’s to secure the point. “This win has been coming,” said Dyche. “We got our tactical plans right today, and the players delivered them to perfection.” He is not resting on his laurels quite yet but Burnley are two points off ninth and as good as safe. For once, they could enjoy a long journey home.