PHOTOS: Burnley 1, Crystal Palace 0
FOR the last month, Burnley have held their very own Late Show.
They have kept their play-off and promotion hopes very much alive with crucial strikes in the last 15 minutes of their last four league games – snatching a winner against Norwich, sealing victory at Watford, earning a point at Cardiff and then the drama of last week’s Lancashire derby.
But on Saturday, they got out of the starting blocks far quicker, with Jay Rodriguez showing admirable technique and control to slam a 25-yard strike beyond Palace keeper Lewis Price inside three minutes.
That proved enough to give the Clarets the points, while some of their rivals wavered above them in the table.
Last week’s win at Preston moved them to within four points of six place, with two games in hand.
This win, meanwhile, made automatic promotion come into view. Should Burnley win their two games in hand – both at home, against Coventry and Middlesbrough – they would be three points from second place.
While three points from the Eagles kept the pressure on, it was apt Rodriguez should score the winner.
With Martin Paterson, Steven Thompson and now Charlie Austin all in danger of missing the rest of the season with injury, much responsibility falls on the 21-year-old’s shoulders.
There has been concern over Burnley’s strikers, but it should not be overlooked that Paterson, Thompson and Austin – excellent though they are – have contributed just six goals to the cause between them this season.
Rodriguez, as he hit double figures for the first time in his fledgling career, Chris Iwelumo and Chris Eagles have 32!
That makes it imperative Rodriguez, Iwelumo and Eagles stay fit, and boss Eddie Howe is searching for bodies to boost his striking options, which were minimal at best agaiinst Palace.
It is okay if plan A works, as it did against the side with the worst away record in the Chaampionship, but, bar bringing Wade Elliott on from the right and moving Eagles off the front, Howe could not freshen up his frontline if needs be.
Burnley have, in many people’s opinion, one of the best squads in the Championship – and still, with their injury problems and players out on loan, cannot accommodate Richard Eckersley in the 18.
But this is where the squad will be tested, and Howe will look to beg, borrow or steal to give his side that extra depth up front.
Any striker would be licking his lips at the service provided, particularly during the first half against Palace, when the Clarets were as dynamic and fluid as they have been all season.
Eagles boss Dougie Freedman spoke of coming with a game plan to inhibit Burnley, but whatever that was, it didn’t work.
The Clarets penned Palace back from the off, moving the ball with a pace and accuracy that crafted a glut of openings.
This was Burnley at their best, patient and probing, but incisive and purposeful, playing with a real inteligence and confidence.
Howe has raised the bar during his brief reign, and seems to be bringing the best out of Ross Wallace, who had flickered during Brian Laws’ tenure, but never caught fire.
He was a constant menace against Palace, whether driving inside from the right touchline and joining in – going for goal or trying to deliver quality – while also linking to good effect with Tyrone Mears on the overlap.
Wallace had already had an early sighter before Rodriguez crashed in what proved the winner, and Burnley attacked at will down the right.
The Scot tied Dean Moxey in knots, firing over after driving inside, while Iwelumo got a header in from a Mears cross.
Rodriguez rose well, but headed wide of the far post from another Mears’ cross, before Wallace attempted an audacious overhead kick from Eagles’ raking ball.
His effort flew high and wide, but it spoke volumes about his frame of mind – impish and impudent.
Moments later he was at it again, his backheel sending Mears away, and Neil Danns was fortunate not to give a penalty away with a desperate lunge.
Rodriguez fired over after Jack Cork dummied a Walllace corner – a routine that has come close to a goal time and again now – and Cork himself headed at Price from another inviting Wallace corner.
But Burnley, for all their dominance, couldn’t add to their tally, and the Eagles were a different proposition in the second half, a half which saw the Clarets struggle to hold on to possession, never mind carve out any openings.
Credit to Palace, they were more combative in midfield and, while they never looked like scoring in open play, the threat from Darren Ambrose’s set-pieces loomed large.
He fired a free-kick straight at Lee Grant, before later wrong-footing him, only to find the roof of the net.
A third effort after the hour produced an eye-catching one-handed stop from Grant, but while it is always nervy when only a goal separates the sides, Burnley were well-worth their win.