McArthur 16 Townsend 77
BURNLEY 0BY RICHARD CAWLEY AT SELHURST PARK
The wait is over. Crystal Palace have been desperate for a first Premier League win of the season at Selhurst Park. A case of seventh time lucky – although they needed little fortune to finally secure it in emphatic fashion.
About the only thing that was fortuitous on Saturday was James McArthur’s 17th career goal for the Eagles.
Burnley keeper Joe Hart was expecting a touch from Max Meyer on the Scot’s cross – only for it to just slip past his outstretched boot and went straight in via the far post.
But this was a match which Palace dominated from start to finish. It’s rare for that to happen in the Premier League, unless we’re talking about one of the top five or six clubs facing smaller fry.
It was entirely comfortable. The only worry was that the South Londoners would be made to unjustly pay for not managing to get at least a second to kill off outplayed opposition.
The Eagles had 29 shots – nine of those on target. Hart twice made vital saves from Wilfried Zaha as well as going full stretch to his left to just about turn away a Meyer effort.
Zaha also struck the crossbar. But just as it began to get slightly silly that Palace could not find goal number two, it arrived. And it was absolutely worth the wait.
If Andros Townsend was able to get more consistency to his shooting, then he probably wouldn’t be in a red and blue shirt.
His strikes are liable to hit spectators more than the back of the net. But when he does get that clean connection, they are unstoppable. Hart never stood a chance as he thrashed into the top corner with his left foot from the edge of the box. Simply sensational.
Game over and a poor run over. Palace had gone eight matches without a victory and five without a goal.
But this was proof that any talk of them being a relegation contender looks wide of the mark. They have way too many talented players to get seriously sucked into danger – with Zaha the jewel in the crown.
The only cautionary note is that Burnley did not exactly arrive in SE25 with a spring in their step.
Former Millwall defender Sean Dyche has done a fine job with the Clarets, but qualifying for the Europa League at the end of last season must feel a long time ago. They came into Saturday’s match with 13 points less than the same stage of the 2017-18 season and are seven without a victory.
Their away form is terrible and they were not at the races – quite literally.
Zaha, Townsend and Patrick van Aanholt were too rapid and Burnley lacked anything like the same pace, which is so vital at top-flight level in particular.
But you can only beat what is in front of you, and without Hart’s interventions and more of a clinical touch it could have been a landslide for Palace.
Some passages of passing were razor sharp. The movement of the trio mentioned above cut Burnley open time and again, particularly in the second half.
I don’t think anyone would suggest Palace’s shortcomings in attack are behind them – they had failed to net in seven Premier League matches which was a joint high – but the defence also looks to possess more than enough to help push Roy Hodgson’s side to a respectable points total.
They now have five clean sheets – seven if you add in the EFL Cup – and Mamadou Sakho and James Tomkins would be a centre-back pairing that would start at a lot of other clubs as this level.
“The best side won – particularly the second half,” said Dyche. “Not so much first half, there was not that much in it.”
Only the very first part of that opening post-match statement was correct. Palace were on the front foot and confident from the word go. They had racked up nine chances before the teams headed off at the break.
Zaha breezed past Burnley left-back Matt Lowton in the opening moments, his mouthwatering low delivery just evading Cheikhou Kouyate. Then Hart needed to be at his best to deny Meyer a first goal since his summer move from Schalke.
The 23-year-old has quickly become a fans’ favourite. Certainly in a central role which saw him pushed up in support of Zaha and Townsend, he was effective. Whether Palace can be so bold against leading teams at this level, is a whole different question.
Hart saved from Zaha at his near post while Kevin Long’s header on Luka Milivojevic sharply-struck volley looked absolutely vital in only conceding a corner.
Sometimes teams struggle to find the same kind of flow after a half-time interval. But the Eagles only strengthened their grip on the contest.
Hart needed quick instincts to deny Zaha, tipping over his bar.
Zaha then brilliantly picked out Van Aanholt but the Dutchman’s decision to check back saw an opportunity disappear.
Milivojevic went for maximum power – Van Aanholt turning provider this time – but ended up scuffing across goal.
The chances kept coming and coming. One excellent passing move saw Charlie Taylor deflect over as McArthur could have got a second of the afternoon. It would have been a quality team goal as the approach play once again opened up Burnley
Eventually Townsend did settle nerves. It was his fourth goal of the season and means he now leads their scoring charts.
The atmosphere was also back. The Holmesdale Fanatics returned in the bottom left corner of that end of the stadium – their dispute with the club now over after plans to rehouse them more centrally next season. It instantly improved the noise levels. There was plenty to cheer about on Saturday.
Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Hennessey 6, Wan-Bissaka 7, Tomkins 7, Sakho 7, Van Aanholt 9, McArthur 8 (Schlupp 78), Milivojevic 7, Kouyate 7, Meyer 8 (Puncheon 90+2), Townsend 8 (Sorloth 88), Zaha 9. Not used: Guaita, Kelly, Ward, Ayew.