BY SAM SMITH
A rare defensive error was key as a Crystal Palace side without Wilfried Zaha lost 1-0 against Burnley at Turf Moor.
Chris Wood made the most of a Cheikhou Kouyate mistake to lash home the game’s only goal after just eight minutes.
The Clarets’ Nick Pope was forced into an early save by Nathaniel Clyne, but it was the hosts who took the lead and then maintained their advantage with relative ease for the remaining 82 minutes.
A high and hopeful pass towards the edge of the penalty area should have been cleared by Kouyate. Instead, the Senegal international misjudged his header and the ball dropped to Jay Rodriguez, who played Wood through on goal.
The Burnley striker’s finish was clinical – side-footing beyond Vicente Guaita to net his side’s first home goal of the season. Ultimately, it earned the Lancashire outfit their maiden win of a campaign in which they have struggled.
Kouyate has otherwise been immaculate this season in a slightly unfamiliar central defensive role and was not alone in being below-par.
Roy Hodgson’s side were without Zaha, who tested positive for Coronavirus before the game. The Eagles appeared toothless without their talisman. In his place, Batshuayi was wasteful and Jordan Ayew was hardly much better.
The South Londoners had several opportunities to claw a point – even all three – from the game but lacked the clinical edge that Zaha offers.
And even when Palace found the target, Burnley goalkeeper Pope was in excellent form.
It was Eberechi Eze who seemed the likeliest to create scoring chances. The midfielder played in James McArthur who seemed caught in two minds as to whether to pass to Batshuayi or to shoot from a tight angle. The Scot’s eventual effort found neither of its intended destinations.
Pope then spectacularly denied a long-range Andros Townsend effort.
Burnley hardly sat back and defended their lead. Guaita denied Wood a second goal from close range, before a counter-attack early in the second half led to Dwight McNeill teeing up Johann Berg Gudmundsson. The former Charlton Athletic midfielder struck the bar with a fizzing strike that had wrong-footed Guaita.
It was McNeill who inadvertently created Palace’s best chance at scoring an equaliser. His poor backpass was intercepted by Batshuayi, but the Belgian lacked conviction and slid a tame effort straight at the onrushing Pope.
The England international was once again there to deny the South Londoners late on. He thwarted substitute Christian Benteke after Cheikhou Kouyate had headed a set-piece into the path of the forward.
The defeat continues Palace’s inconsistent start to the season. Many expected the Eagles to impress following their 4-1 thrashing of Leeds United prior to the international – but instead this was their seventh defeat in their last nine away matches.
Hodgson’s side host Newcastle United on Friday before a trip to West Bromwich Albion on December 5.
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