Burnley boss Sean Dyche said he remains committed to the club after they boosted their hopes of qualifying for Europe with victory at Crystal Palace.
The Clarets have had a challenging time since lockdown, with the failure to extend a number of first-team players’ contracts meaning Dyche has only been able to name a seven-strong substitutes’ bench, comprised mainly of individuals from the club’s academy.
However, after suffering a 5-0 loss at Manchester City in their first game back after the Premier League’s 100-day suspension because of coronavirus, they have now won successive games 1-0 to take them up to eighth in the table.
“In the 100 days from the start of lockdown to the end, the dynamic of the club has changed somewhat, so that has been interesting to compute and to make sense of. But [today] you saw a group fully motivated, as am I,” Dyche told Amazon Prime.
“We’ve got a group here who never go under. I’ll be working hard. You saw me committed in the last game and this game and you saw a team full of commitment to playing for Burnley.”
When asked directly about his future by BBC Radio 5 Live, Dyche replied: “Everyone keeps talking about my future apart from me. I’m getting on with my job as I always do – I’m still here.”
Burnley’s victory came courtesy of a second-half header from captain Ben Mee, who threw himself in to meet an Ashley Westwood free-kick and steer an effort past Vicente Guaita, although the home keeper should really have saved it.
It was reward for a side hampered by the contract situation and who were also without three injured forwards.
However, they were marginally the more positive of the two, with Dwight McNeil showing flashes of inspiration in the final third.
Palace had Wilfried Zaha fit after he limped out of their previous game, at Liverpool five days ago, but his was a subdued display, like the rest of his fellow home forwards.
Their best chance fell to defender Gary Cahill, who fired straight at Nick Pope from inside the box.
Burnley’s win takes them to 45 points and eighth – a league position that could well result in a Europa League place if Manchester City’s European ban is upheld.
Palace, who also hold out hope of a late surge for a European place, are now 11th in the table, three points worse off than Monday’s opponents.
Mee epitomises Burnley resolve
Burnley continue to find ways to confound expectation.
Their first game back saw them hammered at Manchester City on a night overshadowed by a plane flying over the Etihad and arranged by some of their fans, pulling a “White Lives Matter” banner.
Phil Bardsley, fresh from signing a new deal, was restored to the side at Selhurst Park, but they were again without Jeff Hendrick and Aaron Lennon (both out of contract this summer), and lost Jack Cork to injury during the game.
But a second successive win was built upon a rock solid defensive display and the ruthlessness to seize on a big chance when it came.
Captain Mee has stood tall for his side both on and off the pitch since the restart.
It was he who came out to passionately and eloquently condemn the banner flown by Clarets fans at the Etihad and he who stuck his head in where it hurts to score his side’s winner at Selhurst Park.
He also contributed superbly to yet another clean sheet. That is 13 for the season now – only newly crowned champions Liverpool have more.
Dyche may not have the biggest squad, but the players he does have are full of character and resolve.
“In the first half we played very well. We’ve had to change things with the stretched squad we have and we did very well,” said the delighted manager.
“In the second half Palace came out strongly and we lost our way a little bit but we stayed resolute and we had to change our shape, because we had kids on the bench and we didn’t want to throw them in.”
When asked about the prospect of qualifying for Europe – a feat they achieved in 2017-18 – Dyche added: “There’s a long way to go because of how thin our squad is. There are no excuses though and the mentality is good, the physicality has to remain strong.”
Palace fail key test
It was no disgrace for Palace to have been dismantled at Liverpool in their previous game. Most teams have left Anfield on the back of a hiding this season.
Prior to that they had won four on the bounce to propel themselves into the position to make an unlikely late dart for a European spot.
Tonight was a better gauge for where Roy Hodgson’s side are at – and they were largely found wanting.
Their organisation is well-established – prior to the defeat at Liverpool they had won four on the bounce without conceding – but with the onus on them to find a way to unlock their opponents they had little to offer.
Zaha was shackled superbly by the combination of Bardsley and Josh Brownhill, Andros Townsend did little and Jordan Ayew headed the best chance that came his way over the bar.
The Palace forward also planted an arm into the face of Brownhill, prompting a VAR review for a possible red card, but the video officials sided in his favour.
European qualification is not completely beyond Hodgson’s side this season, but this was a big test of their suitability and one they failed.
Asked about his side’s chances of European qualification, former England boss Hodgson responded: “Europe depends a lot on our personnel. We’re certainly not giving anything up.
“The matches are coming thick and fast these days. There will be strange results along the way but this was a great opportunity for us.”
Man of the match – Ben Mee (Burnley)
Burnley break London hoodoo
- Crystal Palace have lost three of their last five Premier League home games (W2), as many defeats as they suffered in their previous 13 at Selhurst Park in the top-flight (W5 D5).
- Burnley secured their first Premier League win in their last 11 visits to London (D1 L9) and just their fourth overall in the capital in the competition (31 games).
- Crystal Palace’s starting line-up had an average age of 30 years and 323 days, the second-oldest in the Premier League this season (after the Eagles against Bournemouth on June 20 – 30y 334d).
- Burnley registered their 13th clean sheet of the Premier League season, their most-ever in a campaign in the competition.
- Crystal Palace and Burnley have failed to score in the first half of more Premier League games this season than any other sides (24 each).
- Ashley Westwood registered his 14th Premier League assist for Burnley, with only Johann Gudmundsson managing more for the Clarets (16).
Burnley face another big test of their European credentials when they host Sheffield United at Turf Moor on Sunday, 5 July at 12:00 BST.
Palace play the day before, in a 15:00 kick-off at a side firmly in the mix for a European spot – Leicester.