“I think our nerves got shattered when they scored that goal so early,” Allardyce commented. “The Premier League can turn in a second and I don’t think that we recovered until half-time. After that we tried our best but we weren’t good enough.”
Few Premier League managers would have been quite so philosophical after a defeat that left their team placed just six points above the relegation zone, but key to Allardyce’s sense of inner-calm was Palace’s hard-fought 2-1 win over Liverpool just a week earlier.
“I’d still take where we are,” he added. “What we’ve done this week, we’ve still accumulated three points in a difficult week and that will help us recover from this defeat.” Some would have considered a home defeat to Burnley as cancelling out that earlier achievement: for Allardyce, the week still constituted a success.
His sense of perspective after such an underwhelming defeat offered an interesting glimpse into Crystal Palace’s psyche, and revealed how the club’s ambitions have significantly altered after Alan Pardew’s disastrous start to the new season.
Back in September, flush from a spending spree that had seen him blow over £50m on just three players, Pardew had been eulogising Palace’s newly adopted possession-based style of play and dreaming openly of a place in Europe. The ‘sweeper-keeper’ Steve Mandanda was signed amid much fanfare – “this guy will force us to play,” Pardew observed at the time – and a comprehensive overhaul of the club’s playing style was set in motion.
Palace started the campaign reasonably well, with three wins from the opening six matches to leave them seventh in the table. That was to be the highest they would climb all season. Six straight defeats followed, with the club winning just four points in three months. Pardew was sacked.
Steve Parish elaborated on this troubled period when he accused the club of being “mentally fragile” under Pardew’s management, on BT Sport ahead of the loss to Burnley.
“I think that we tried to change the way that we wanted to play and it got us into trouble. I don't think we were quite ready to do it. I felt we had become mentally fragile,” he said.
Allardyce has certainly toughened Palace up since joining in December – the club have beaten Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool under his tutelage – even if his admission that Palace’s “nerves got shattered when Burnley scored so early” would appear to indicate some mental brittleness remains. Allardyce’s pragmatic approach and marked attempt to temper the club’s expectations also hint at a more stable future than the one Pardew was promising.
And for all the excitement at Selhurst Park at the beginning of the campaign, following the season prior in which they had sat 5th on Boxing Day and reached the final of the FA Cup, it still cannot be ignored that Palace are still a team effectively maximising their resources.
While Pardew began the season casting envious glances at White Hart Lane and Goodison Park, calling on his team to trouble the top-half of the Premier League, the south London club actually have more in common with this weekend’s unheralded opponents than they do the league’s elite.
Palace have the sixth-lowest wage bill in the league, for example, while the club’s estimated worth of just under £200m comfortably places them in the lower half of the table, when it comes to the top-flight’s richest clubs. And for a club that only just escaped administration in 2010, that’s no small achievement.
Despite defeat on Saturday, with goals from Ashley Barnes and Andre Gray enough to secure Burnley’s Premier League status for another season, Palace are well-positioned to avoid relegation and, under Allardyce, well-equipped to escape it next year, too.
The 2017/18 campaign may not begin with wide-eyed talk of European nights and an aesthetically pleasing possession based style of football, but Crystal Palace are likely to continue over-achieving in relative terms. All things considered, they remain a club in the ascendency.