Prior to kick-off, all the talk centred around whether or not Stan Ternent would recall Gareth Taylor to the starting line-up having served his three-match suspension. The manager has often said that if you play well you keep the shirt, in which case Taylor would have remained on the sidelines. But when you have a player as important to Burnley as Gareth Taylor is, the temptation to play him will always be great. As it was, such a temptation proved too much for the Burnley boss, who opted to select the Welshman.
Taylor lined up as the spearhead in a 4-3-3 formation alongside Ian Moore and Robbie Blake. Alan Moore was the man dropped from midfield as the Clarets went with Cook Grant and Briscoe – Glen Little was omitted from the team having suffered back spasms. Mark McGregor had to settle for the subs bench as Drissa Diallo was recalled to the starting line-up, partnering Arthur Gnohere at the centre of defence. West and Branch were Burnley’s full backs. Strangely, having done nothing wrong Nik The Greek was dropped in favour of the fit again Marlon Beresford.
Burnley were on the back foot from the off as Palace took the game to their hosts, Julian Gray and Tommy Black being particular thorns in the Clarets’ side. It was Gray who caused Burnley’s first problem of the afternoon on eight minutes. Skipper Paul Cook headed away the stringy winger’s dangerous centre on 8 minutes. Five minutes later, Gray was at it again. His deep cross found Tommy Black at the far post, but he was only able to find the side-netting with his resultant effort.
It took the Clarets almost 20 minutes to threaten the visitor’s goal. With 18 minutes on the clock, a long punt forward (which summed up Burnley’s first half) found Gareth Taylor. His fierce shot went wide of Berthelin’s left post. Two minutes later Burnley supporters were out of their seats, as Taylor powered a header against the Palace crossbar. Not that it would have counted as the nearside linesman had flagged for offside.
On 24 minutes, Tommy Black embarked on a fine run which culminated with a fierce left foot drive, which Beresford did well to turn away. Throughout the first half, the Clarets had struggled to clear their lines effectively, and it seemed a question of when rather than if the Eagles would take the lead.
This point was emphasised when Arthur Gnohere over-elaborated on the ball in the left-back position. King Arthur lost out to the lively Andy Johnson. Johnson’s centre was driven goalwards, by Gray but was blocked superbly by Marlon Beresford. Aki Riihilahti squandered the rebound. Beresford was forced into further heroics 5 minutes later, Black picking out Gray’s head at the far post.
But football can be a perverse game. One minute prior to half time, having been battered for the previous 43 minutes, Burnley were awarded a free-kick on the left hand side of the Palace box. Robbie Blake delivered a cross with plenty of pace on it. All Taylor had to do was make the slightest of contacts. He did. The ball flew off his head and nestled satisfyingly in the corner of Berthelin’s goal. Larceny was a word which sprang to mind. Not that the travelling support gave a damn.
The second half saw the visitors emerge with a bit more purpose and enthusiasm about them. On 52 minutes, Dean West and Tony Grant combined well to release Robbie Blake inside the Palace area. His low effort thumped agonisingly against the post. Even more agonisingly, of the three players it could have rebounded to, the ball just happened to fall for an Eagles defender, who gratefully hooked it to safety.
On the hour Burnley indulged in a frustrating spot of, "After you, Claude", also known as "Why bother shooting when you can walk it in?" Blake picked out Tony Grant on the right who broke into the box and had a clear one-on-one with Berthelin. Instead of rifling the ball home, or at least at the target, Grant dithered as though he had all the time in the world. He didn’t. The danger was cleared.
Grant’s hesitancy was to prove costly. The Eagles immediately broke downfield. One time Burnley target, Dele Adebola, latched onto a ball and chased it into the Burnley box. Marlon came way off his line and threw himself at the big striker’s feet. Whether he made any contact or not is debatable. But in the same way Ipswich’s Andy Marshall got everything he deserved for flinging himself at Ian Moore’s feet the previous week, the same applied to Beresford who was on a hiding to nothing as soon as he flung himself to the deck. Tony Popovic converted the penalty to level the score.
Spurred on by the penalty, the home side began to get their act together. On 65 minutes, Tommy Black unleashed a thunderous piledriver which crashed off Beresford’s bar. Less than 5 minutes later, the hotly tipped Wayne Routledge combined with fellow substitute, Ade Akinbiyi. Predictably, the hapless Akinbiyi headed wide. Robbie Blake made way for Dimi Papadopoulos.
With 10 minutes remaining, Dimi worked himself a half-chance but instead of firing a shot goalwards, he simply passed the ball back to the grateful Berthelin. Having awarded a dubious penalty to the hosts, referee Cooper chose to turn down the bona fide article when Papadopoulos was hauled back in the area by a Palace defender. He missed another opportunity to make amends a couple of minutes from time when an Eagles defender clearly handled the ball inside the area, much to the Burnley supporters’ dismay. The final chance for glory fell to Burnley. Lee Briscoe’s 89th minute corner fell to Drissa Daillo 10 yards out in a central position. But Drissa showed why he excels at centre-half rather than at the other end of the pitch as he blazed his shot high into the Palace fans behind the goal.
All in all a draw was probably a fair result. But one cannot help but feel a sense of frustration that Mr. Cooper awarded one non-penalty whilst turning down two dead-certs for the Clarets. But then, I suppose I would say that, wouldn’t I?