Unsung heroes and “Out Big Samming” Big Sam.
Amidst a slump in form which had seen Burnley hover precariously over the relegation trapdoor and after a week in which the club had to deal with the distraction and disruption of the Joey Barton ban, it was more out of a sense of duty than with genuine optimism, I tuned into Saturday evenings televised fixture against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.
That feeling of foreboding was further enhanced by the presence in the home dugout of “Big Sam” Allardyce, a manager who wrote the book on setting up his teams and motivating his players to win games just like this.
Palace, under his leadership, were in the midst of an impressive run which had hauled them into a position two points ahead of Burnley but with the wind in their sails, whilst Burnley were frantically trying to catch the faintest breeze.
But it transpired that Sean Dyche also knows a thing or two about setting up his teams and motivating his players and for this match he reverted to his original blueprint, his tried and trusted.
Sam Vokes and Ashley Barnes were started in attack in preparation for a muscular, long-range artillery bombardment on the centre of a Palace defence shorn of a number of their regular starters. The tactic proved to be a master stroke. Barnes and Vokes harassed, jostled and bullied a hesitant Palace rear-guard and once Barnes’ toe-poke had provided the Clarets with an early lead, Burnley’s confidence grew visibly with each passing minute.
Confidence allied with resolve, a TV close-up of Scott Arfield revealed a steely determination in his gaze, a clear-eyed focus that was replicated by his team mates and re-ignited the fire that had, in recent weeks, diminished to a flicker.
When Andre Gray sealed the victory with a skilfully applied finish to George Boyd’s sumptuous through-ball, it was no more than the Clarets deserved for a performance of drive, energy and rigid application of a tactical plan.
Burnley had heroes all over the pitch on Saturday night. Ashley Westwood pressed and harried in the midfield spot vacated by Barton, Jon Flanagan was superb in his suppression of the dangerous Wilfred Zaha. James Tarkowski gave a compelling audition for the role of Michael Keane in next season’s Premier League production.
The footballing intelligentsia are often baffled that the Premier League takes delight in such blood and thunder encounters witnessed at Selhurst Park. The tiki-taka and intricate patterns and fluid movements of La Liga may stimulate the soccer intellect but undoubtedly it is the Premier League which stirs the soul.
And thanks to the three points secured at Palace yesterday, Clarets fans can now look forward with a reasonable degree of surety that the Premier League is where Burnley will be performing next season.
A win over West Bromwich Albion next Saturday will confirm that as a mathematical certainty.
This match review was written by Clarets Mad regular commentator on all things coloured Claret & Blue, Dave Thornley. (TEC).