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1516 burnley turf moor 04It was the fourth minute of stoppage time. Burnley, having taken an early two goal lead, were hanging on at 2-2 against Crystal Palace and had just conceded a free kick.

I’m sure most home fans inside Turf Moor were nervous, more so given that on Palace’s last visit they’d come from 2-0 behind to beat us 3-2. I’m sure there were anxious checks on the watches as those five extra minutes seemed to be moving far too slowly.

But, from that free kick, we initially cleared it before Dean Marney anticipated their next move quicker than anyone else. He did so well, as he’d done all game, got in front of the Palace player and played the ball forward for Ashley Barnes not too far inside his own half.

Barnes saw Johann Berg Gudmundsson on the run down the right. His pass pushed Johann just a little too far wide, although far from the rubbish cry from Sky’s Gary Birtles. The rest was perfect. Gudmundsson’s ball in was superb as was the finish from Barnes who had got into the box and hammered home left footed on the half volley.

Just three days short of the second anniversary of his first ever winning goal in a Premier League game, that against Hull on 8th November 2014, he’d done it again, netting for the first time in any first team game since he scored against West Brom in February 2015.

No wonder he celebrated; no wonder his team mates surrounding him. He’d got the winner although there was to be one escape to follow when Andros Townsend hit a shot against the foot of the post.

It’s the second successive home game when we’ve won it with a goal right at the end. Turf Moor erupted again and the buzz was still very evident a few minutes later as supporters made their way out of the ground and left for home.

This was the perfect end to a game that, for so long, we thought was going our way and then turned towards Palace with a goal that, if we are being absolutely spot on, was offside and a penalty.

Winter is on its way. The coats, hats and gloves were out in force yesterday as we faced our first game of the season since the clocks went back and this was the first home game with the yellow ball.

The team showed two changes from that which had started at Old Trafford. Jon Flanagan got his first Premier League start for the Clarets in place of the injured Stephen Ward and Sean Dyche opted to return to five in midfield which saw fit again Steven Defour come straight back in with Andre Gray dropping to the bench.

Two weeks ago for the Everton game there were two full backs and two central defenders named as substitutes. This time there were three strikers and two wide players alongside goalkeeper Paul Robinson and central defender cum emergency midfielder James Tarkowski.

Without wanting to get into the debate over Fifa’s stance regarding the England v Scotland game this week, the two teams came out with special shirts incorporating the poppy, as has become a feature in recent years, and a minute silence was impeccably observed by the crowd during the playing of The Last Post.

We were ready and playing towards the cricket field stand in the first half as we’ve done in every home game this season. And what a start. Palace won a first minute corner on the right but from there we took the lead.

Gudmundsson got in a header but much of the praise for this goal has to go to Jeff Hendrick. I’ve been mystified by some of the criticism of him, particularly in last week’s game at Manchester United, and he did what he does so well and carried the ball out. It was then picked up by Steven Defour who played the ball out to the right to Matt Lowton.

Lowton’s pass across to Gudmundsson, who had covered ground terrifically to get forward, was a little bit heavy but he got it back to the advancing Lowton who fired in a shot at goal. We got a bit of good fortune, I suppose. Goalkeeper Steve Mandanda parried it onto Scott Dann who then seemed to hit the goalkeeper’s head. Who cares? The rebound fell nicely for Sam Vokes who poked the ball home for his fourth goal of the season.

Just before the quarter hour the lead was doubled. If the first came from their corner then the second was from our excellent pressing which won us the ball back on the left hand side close to the half way line.

When it was eventually played in to Vokes, he quickly got the ball into the path of Gudmundsson who ran clear and fired in a left foot shot that Mandanda saved. He couldn’t hold it and the ball bounced away and, to be honest, I’m not sure where I thought it was going. “It’s gone in,” screamed my brother. Burnley were 2-0, Johann had his first Burnley goal and things were looking good.

For the remainder of the first half I would think we were the better side but Palace did create probably more chances than we would have liked. But by half time things looked good as we took a two goal lead into the break. When we beat Liverpool back in August it was the first time we’d ever held a two goal lead at half time in a Premier League game; we haven’t had to wait too long for the next occasion.

I thought the first quarter of an hour of the second half was potentially our best spell of the game. I didn’t think Palace were at all threatening and we might have extended the lead to three on a couple of occasions, Vokes coming closest when played in down the left hand side, his first effort saved and the next on the rebound going agonisingly wide as Hendrick was close to getting a touch to turn it in.

Palace then made a double substitution just before the hour, changed their system and it paid immediate dividends. Zeki Fryers came on for Martin Kelly while Jason Puncheon was replaced by Connor Wickham who pulled a goal back with his first touch.

Wilfried Zaha got the better of us down the right and crossed for Wickham, with his first touch, to hit home. Television pictures do show that Wickham is just about offside. It’s one of those where you think the decision should always go in your own team’s favour. It was really close.

2-1 it was though and with half an hour to play. Now it got more difficult. Palace pushed at us but, as you would expect, we defended well. I lost count of the number of blocks we got in and the tackles we won. So well were we doing it that Tom Heaton wasn’t being overworked at all.

Ten minutes to go and still in front but disaster struck when Lowton handled a cross from the left. Penalties are often contentious; this one wasn’t. It’s a clear penalty and Christian Benteke sent Heaton the wrong way before almost rolling the ball into the bottom corner.

At this point I was seriously concerned that the lightening that was their comeback to win 3-2 last time was about to strike again. There really did only look like one possible winner and I was relieved to get to 90 minutes still hanging on to the point.

Up went the board. Five minutes? Had Sir Alex turned up again? James Tarkowski, who had replaced Defour, gave away that free kick. He redeemed himself by winning the ball in the air and heading it out but as they tried to play the ball back in, Marney so brilliantly intercepted and within seconds the noise levels had increased incredibly as we celebrated Barnes’ first goal since coming back from injury.

Aye-Aye-Ashley-Ashley- Barnes sang the home crowd but it wasn’t over and it was hearts in mouths time when Townsend crashed that shot against the post. It proved to be Palace’s last chance and when that final whistle went we’d got ourselves another three points and moved up to ninth in the table.

We’d been up against it at times but there were so many positives to take from the game, mainly in the midfield where we have often been criticised. What a difference Defour makes. I don’t care how long he can play, while he’s on the pitch he looks a class act and his ability to find and play a pass yesterday was to behold.

Marney, I thought, was at his best, showing us again just what we missed during his time out injured and Hendrick was also a very good performer. Then there was Gudmundsson. He just seems to get better with every game. There might well have been some good fortune with his goal but his overall play was excellent and let’s not forget his major contribution to the other two goals.

One of my concerns ahead of yesterday’s game was the almost over confident belief from some fans that this would be easy, presumably because we’d just beaten Everton and then got a point at Manchester United. The simple fact is there are no easy games in this league, there are no games that are anything but difficult.

Palace looked a decent side. They have pace to burn throughout it, but, despite Alan Pardew’s insistence that they lost only because they gave soft goals away, they went away knowing that they too had just been in a very tough game.

I think most of us would have taken 14 points at this stage, as we go into the third international break of the season. There’s a long, long way to go yet. There will be more nervous ends to games, more twists and turns to come, but we’ve given ourselves a decent start as we look to get to that magical points total which would keep us up.

As I moved away from my seat towards the concourse at the end of the game, two young lads were leaving. One said to the other: “It’s brilliant this isn’t it? We are beating really good teams.” Yes lads, it is brilliant.

The teams were;

Burnley: Tom Heaton, Matt Lowton, Michael Keane, Ben Mee, Jon Flanagan, Johann Berg Gudmundsson, Jeff Hendrick (Ashley Barnes 86), Dean Marney, Steven Defour (James Tarkowski 74), Scott Arfield (George Boyd 65), Sam Vokes.
Yellow Card: Dean Marney.

Crystal Palace: Steve Mandanda, Joel Ward, Scott Dann, Damien Delaney, Martin Kelly (Zeki Fryers 59), Yohan Cabaye, Jason Puncheon (Connor Wickham 59), Wilfried Zaha, James McArthur (Joe Ledley 88), Andros Townsend, Christian Benteke. Subs not used: Wayne Hennessey, Mathieu Flamini, James Tomkins, Chung-Yong Lee.
Yellow Cards: James McArthur, Damien Delaney.

Referee: Anthony Taylor (Wythenshawe).

Attendance: 19,196.

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