SKIPPER Jason Shackell admits England international Wilfried Zaha will provide a stern examination of Burnley’s new-found defensive solidity tomorrow.
Zaha stole the show the last time the sides met at Selhurst Park in October, scoring twice in 4-3 win - Eddie Howe’s last game in charge.
Since then, Burnley - who were then the top-scorers in the Championship, but had also conceded the most goals - have tightened things up under Sean Dyche, with five clean sheets since he took the helm.
Since that game Zaha has gone on to make his England debut, as a substitute against Sweden, and Shackell is well aware of his threat: “He’s lightning quick, which causes any team problems.
“He’s got that little bit of skill.
“I’m sure he’ll be looking to push onwards and upwards.
“It’s a good test for our players.
“Tripps (Kieran Trippier) has had a great season so far and it will be another good test for him up against Zaha.”
The centre back smiled: “Hopefully he stays nice and wide!
“But it’s one we’re looking forward to, one we’ll relish and hopefully we can get the win.”
Zaha remains a January transfer target for the top Premier League sides, with current leaders Manchester United interested, and Shackell wasn’t surprised to see him get an England call-up: “I think that’s all credit to the set-up.
“I think they’re open minded.
“He’s performed really well, he’s a young talent, he’s got a lot of time to grow so they’ve got him involved to show him what it’s all about.
“That can only be beneficial to him and hopefully England in the future.”
While Shackell and company plot a way to stop Zaha, Palace also bring with them Glenn Murray, the Championship’s top-scorer with 22 - two more than Charlie Austin, who has 23 in all competitions.
Murray was on target in Palace’s 4-3 win earlier this season, but Dyche has shored things up defensively since his arrival in November, and Shackell said: “Back then we could have scored five every game and conceded seven.
“It’s nice - especially with being a defender - we’re so organised now.
“Teams are finding it hard not only to score goals but to create chances against us, which is an amazing plus.
“Going forward we’re still creating a lot of chances so maybe it’s just about being a bit more ruthless in both boxes at the minute and make sure you turn those chances into goals and keep them out then hopefully we can pick up some more wins.
“Five clean sheets since Sean came in says a lot.
“He’s really got us structured, everyone knows their job and I think that’s what we needed.”
Burnley may have lost their last outing at Barnsley in the FA Cup, but they have two wins in three in the league, moving them to within four points of Watford, who sit in sixth place.
So, despite an inconsistent first half of the season, there is all to play for: “In the dressing room we look at that as a positive.
“Every team will say there have been games where they maybe should have got more out of them, but we have and to still be only four points off the play-offs when we feel like we’ve been inconsistent and maybe could have and should have done better, then that’s a huge positive.
“If we can push on and keep the performance levels high and making it hard for the teams that are trying to play against us we’ll pick up points and hopefully we’ll be there or thereabouts.”
If you had said Burnley would be above Blackburn, Bolton, Wolves and Birmingham, you would imagine they would be higher than 12th, but Shackell admitted: “It’s a tough league and there are some big teams who are struggling at the minute but we’ve just gone past the halfway point so we’re going to have to make sure we keep working hard and keep doing what we have been doing over recent weeks and hopefully we can stay above all those teams.
“The signs are good and the lads are confident and very positive at the minute.
“I think everyone thinks they should be a bit higher to be fair.
“The lads are quite ambitious and we’re a confident group.
“But again we’re not there for a reason.
“We haven’t always got the right results, but we’re on the right lines, we’re working harder, we’re more organised, there are a lot of games and a lot of points still to play for and there’s no reason why we can’t get in that top six.”