Alan O’Brien Follow @alanob2112
From a neutral perspective, Chris Wood’s 3rd-minute strike represented a worst-case scenario realised. So followed an eon of Burnley pressure-absorption, and a late Crystal Palace barrage, that the hosts were lucky to survive.
Forced to dump his back-three, after midweek crisis talks with the Palace board, Frank de Boer instead plumped for the 4-3-3 that saw 45 minutes of action against Swansea.
Alas, despite the Palace players getting the system they cried out for, they still contrived to let their manager down. Lee Chung-Yung, on his first league start of 2017, extended his side’s wretched run of individual-errors by back-passing into the Kiwi striker’s path.
Game-changing errors by Joel Ward, Luka Milivojevic, and Martin Kelly, against Huddersfield, Liverpool, and Swansea respectively, could be explained away by system-discomfort. This one could not.
Lee’s error owed much to Johann Gudmundsson’s determined pressing, but that wasn’t really a feature of the Clarets’ play henceforth.
Sean Dyche’s charges, assembled in a 4-4-2 for the first time this season, instead focused on maintaining a narrow, compact, defensive shape. Wood and strike-partner Sam Vokes took turns to sit on Yohan Cabaye, preventing quick diagonals out wide.
So effective was this Dyche ploy, that the French midfielder completed only 19 passes throughout the first-half, with a piffling pass-completion ratio of 59%.
As such, despite fielding Cayabe from the start for the first time, de Boer saw his side fail to benefit from the 31-year-old’s storied attack-starting capabilities. Palace’s first-half forays into Burnley territory were feeble, with only Andros Townsend’s residence in the inside-right pocket posing a genuine open-play threat.
Christian Benteke, just as aerially-dominant against James Tarkowski as Vokes was against Timothy Fosu-Mensah, should have scored from a Townsend centre.
Benteke headed wide after beating Michael Keane’s in-house replacement. And the Belgian wasted an even bigger second-half chance, after besting Tarkowksi again and collecting Townsend’s resultant return-pass.
Townsend also carved out a glorious headed chance for 19-year-old substitute Levi Lumeka; again from the inside-right pocket. Otherwise, prior to de Boer’s late tactical dice-rolls, Palace only really threatened from set-pieces, where Burnley’s man-to-man system continually let Scott Dann go free at the back-post.
Burnley, meanwhile, just stopped attacking after ten minutes. Stephen Ward’s understanding with, and overlapping beyond, Robbie Brady held early promise. As did Palace’s kamikaze high-defensive-line that forced Dann to foil another potential Wood one-on-one.
But from minute-10 to minute-74, the Clarets attempted precisely zero shots on Wayne Hennessey’s goal. Such was the extent of Dyche’s focus on having-what-he-held.
Eventually, after watching Jeffrey Schlupp and Lee combine to deliver a string of pathetic second-half crosses, de Boer took action. Benteke was given support in the form of Cabaye, with defender Jairo Riedewald simultaneously introduced alongside Jason Puncheon in a holding-midfield role.
Minutes later, Dann was promoted to the front-line alongside his misfiring Belgian striker. And in a game contested between two direct sides, where attackers were comprehensively winning the aerial tussle, that was always going to pay a dividend.
Except it didn’t. Or, rather, it almost did. Ben Mee and Tarkowski’s mix-up may have permitted Benteke to turn a route-one pass into a Cabaye byline-cross. But Dann, free behind the otherwise excellent Matthew Lowton at the back-post, did not read the script.
In a game that foisted two other gift-wrapped chances, and two goal-line clearances, on a much-improved Palace, the centre-back’s miss seemed fitting. Recognition on-high of such misfortune may not be enough to save de Boer from his almost-inevitable fate.
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