Burnley lost a lead for the third league game in a row due to defensive frailties, writes Jamie Smith.
It’s becoming a story that is all too familiar. The Clarets start the game reasonably brightly and take the lead, but end up with little to show for their efforts. On Saturday, Eddie Howe’s men were undone by the pace of Wilfried Zaha, who scored a brace to add to his reputation as one of the Championship’s hottest talents.
Jason Shackell was back for the Clarets, along with Marvin Bartley and Chris McCann, with Michael Duff, Brian Stock and Ross Wallace dropping out of the side. Burnley played a loose 4-5-1/4-3-3 shape with Dean Marney charged with protecting the back four and Martin Paterson and Junior Stanislas supplying Charlie Austin from the flanks. Palace had a similar formation, with two shielding their back four and Zaha their main threat out wide.
The first 20 minutes was cagey with little quality on show from either side and against the general run of play, Burnley took the lead. Kieran Trippier whipped in a dangerous cross from deep that was only half cleared to the left flank. Stanislas picked it up, took two defenders out of the game with his next touch and curled a delightful effort that Julian Speroni had to be at his best to turn on to the post. Junior’s work deserved a goal and it got one, McCann following up for a straightforward finish.
And with Palace on the ropes, Burnley doubled their advantage immediately. Bartley, who was involved in the build-up to the opener, again did well down the right channel and fed Paterson, who swung a volley over Speroni from the corner of the penalty area. It was an audacious effort that reminded fans of Micah Hyde’s famous goal at Ewood Park in the FA Cup.
With a 2-0 lead undeservedly under their belts, Burnley could and should have slowed the game down and stuffed the midfield, cutting off the supply line to Zaha. Ben Mee had marshalled the quick winger well, but on switching wings to the Palace left he caused all sorts of problems. And before the break Palace had a goal back, Brazilian prompter Andre Moritz freeing Zaha, who burst away from Trippier easily to finish well. It would be the first of four goals to come from Trippier’s wing on the day.
The Clarets made it through to half time comfortably enough, but even at 2-1 there was a sense Burnley were not favourites to win the game. The defensive line looked ropey and Marney was not offering enough protection to those behind him.
However, it was the Clarets who started the second half the stronger, although a sustained period of pressure eventually led to the equalising goal. Burnley’s attack broke down and with Marney and the rest of the midfield ahead of the play, Palace had three on two. Zaha’s pace was always going to be too much and with Shackell backing off as far as the area, he struck a firm shot through Lee Grant’s legs.
At 2-2 there was only going to be one winner of the match. Heads dropped on the pitch and in the stand. Shackell, supposedly the leader and organiser who would lift the side in times of crisis, was quiet.
The next goal was always going to be key and again it came down the Palace left. David Edgar’s weak defensive header was straight down to the feet of the onrushing Damien Delaney, who collected the early Christmas gift with glee.
It could have been any score after that. Palace pushed on, roared on by a strong 21,000 crowd to mark a family day at Selhurst Park. And Dougie Freedman’s team made the points safe when Dean Moxey’s low cross found Glenn Murray in acres of space in the Burnley box to finish easily, with Edgar and Shackell nowhere in sight.
Burnley did grab themselves a consolation goal, substitute Sam Vokes flicking on for Charlie Austin to notch his 15th goal of the season with a firm drive from 16 yards with the only defender slipping to leave his path to Speroni’s net clear, but there was never a sense that an equaliser would come.
There was a big penalty shout for the Clarets when a Palace defender blocked a shot on goal with his arms, but seconds later Shackell shoved over a Palace attacker in the box, so it’s swings and roundabouts there.
Howe waited until his men were 3-2 down and facing defeat before turning to substitutes, with Cameron Stewart lively but ineffective and Vokes feeding off scraps. Ross Wallace barely completed a pass in his ten minutes on the pitch.
Burnley’s inability to hold a lead is concerning. The Clarets now have the worst defensive record in the league, as well as the best attack. We’re 16th in the Championship and would be on track for promotion if we were able to convert leads into wins.
Positive signs remain. Austin is the deadliest finisher in the division, if not the country, and Trippier’s delivery from deep is lethal. McCann is a threat and Mee has done well since his return to the side. Despite shipping 22 league goals in ten games, Grant is having a good season in goal.
But the defence is a major concern and over the course of the international break, Eddie Howe is going to have to come up with a way to keep clean sheets. Blackpool are the next opponents for Burnley and in Tom Ince and Matt Phillips, they boast a pair of wingers almost as quick as Zaha, while Kevin Phillips remains a canny operator in front of goal. But they lost 2-0 at home to a Charlton side featuring Leon Cort at the weekend, so there is hope.
There are certainly more than three teams worse on paper in the division than Burnley, but we are on course to concede over 100 goals this season and that is a real problem.
Burnley simply must do a lot better.
Was this defeat a sign for real concern, or are things just not going our way? Comment below.