REPORT: Crystal Palace 0 Burnley 1 – News
Ben Mee marked his 300th league appearance for the Clarets with a famous winner as Burnley moved up to eighth place in the Premier League – and what could be a European qualification place.
Mee has proved himself a magnificent leader on and off the pitch in these recent trying times – and the Clarets’ captain did it again with a first goal since January, 2017.
The defender dived to head home in the 62nd minute as Sean Dyche’s men again defied the odds to move above Palace in the table with a second successive win since the league’s restart.
Down to the bare bones because of injury, the Clarets again couldn’t fill their bench.
But magnificently they met the challenge with Mee just one of a dozen heroes as he proved a tower of strength at both ends of the pitch on a memorable night in London.
The Clarets’ resources were stretched almost to breaking point, with Jay Rodriguez and Matt Lowton added to the injured list to take the number of senior absentees post-lockdown into double figures.
Phil Bardsley and Erik Pieters returned to the starting line-up, with young midfielder Mace Goodridge added to the bench which was still two short of the maximum allowed.
Pieters took up a spot on the left-hand side of midfield, with Dwight McNeil moving inside to supplement the Clarets’ attacking resources which had Matej Vydra as the only fit senior striker available.
And McNeil revelled in the freer role as a fulcrum for the Clarets’ forward movements in a first half in which the Dyche’s men were the better side.
With Ashley Westwood dictating play from in front of the Burnley back four, in which the immaculate James Tarkowski was playing his 300th game in club football as Mee’s rock-solid partner, the visitors saw more of the ball.
And the best shooting chances came the Clarets’ way in the shape of McNeil.
The 20-year-old, gliding around like he owned the place, lifted his first effort over the top after Patrick van Aanholt had cleared a Westwood corner from in front of goal.
At the end of another typically driving run he then shot too close to Palace keeper Vicente Guaita and following a neat link with Josh Brownhill – having his best game yet in a Burnley shirt – might have been disappointed not to have found the target with the chance to curl one inside the far post.
Vydra and Pieters were also given the sniff of a chance from a delightful Westwood delivery, while Palace – whose goal tally is better than only bottom club Norwich City – managed just one long-range effort from Jordan Ayew which was comfortably gathered by Nick Pope.
The Clarets’ keeper was further extended seven minutes into the second half by a skidding effort from former Burnley loanee Gary Cahill as Palace – playing at home for the first time since lockdown – enjoyed a spell on top.
But the Clarets rode it out and with an hour gone grabbed the lead through the unlikely figure of Mee.
Not for the first time McNeil eased the pressure with an excellent run stopped by Palace substitute James McCarthy, who was booked for his trouble.
And when Westwood swung in the free-kick, Mee threw himself to steer a diving header in off the post and the hand of Guaita.
That left Burnley half an hour to negotiate and they had to much of it without Jack Cork after the midfielder added to the Clarets’ injury woes, limping off to be replaced by Kevin Long as Burnley went to five at the back with McNeil filling Cork’s slot in midfield.
It was backs-to-the-wall stuff at times with Ayew and Luka Milivojevic passing up two heading chances as the game entered its final 10 minutes.
Pope also denied Ayew with a sprawling late save as Palace piled men forward.
But with the England man making it 13 clean sheets for the season as his team-mates refused to budge, the Clarets won for only the second time in 14 league trips to Selhurst Park to continue their remarkable climb towards a European challenge.
Crystal Palace: Guaita; Ward, Dann, Cahill, van Aanholt; Milivojevic; Townsend (Meyer 77), Kouyate (McCarthy HT), McArthur, Zaha; Ayew. Substitutes: Hennessey, Sakho, Woods, Tavares, Mitchell, Pierrick, Riedewald.
Burnley: Pope; Bardsley, Tarkowski, Mee, Taylor; Brownhill, Westwood, Cork (Long 70), McNeil; McNeil; Vydra. Substitutes: Peacock-Farrell, Jensen, Long, Thompson, Dunne, Thomas, Goodridge.
Referee: Simon Hooper