Chalk and cheese is the only way to describe this Everton performance compared to that we saw in defeating Arsenal last Monday. Everton were second best throughout to a lively Palace side for whom Chelsea loanee Conor Gallagher was clearly the most influential player.
Selhurst Park has proven to be one of the happier hunting grounds for Everton in the Premier League era, the Blues unbeaten on south London soil in our last ten visits and Palace winless on their own pitch since 1994 and having only netted six time since that day.
This Sunday they came into the game winless in their last four games and having lost three straight but, under former Arsenal midfielder Patrick Vieira Eagles fans are generally happier with the style of play he’s coaching compared to that of the more reserved and conservative Roy Hodgson.
Vieira was fortunate in his squad having sustained no new injury concerns and had a slight boost with the return to availability of defender Joel Ward following a suspension; Joachim Andersen having returned to training but, James McArthur and Nathan Ferguson remain on the injured list.
Addressing the media, the Palace manger reflected upon his sides recent results commenting, “I think the last four games, one point is not what we wanted of course. The results weren’t what we wanted and expected but, on the other side we have to look at how we performed. We lost some games we deserved at least a point from. The two games played away from home we may not have created enough to win but, on the other side we didn’t concede enough [chances] to lose. We need to find a balance and really understand the importance of taking our chances against any team. That was the hard learning we had in the last couple of games.”
Turning his attention to the Blues he noted, “I think I didn’t need to watch the Arsenal game to know how good and dangerous this Everton team can be. When you look at the players and manager this is a good team. We’re only talking about games they lost or drew but if you look at the performances I’m sure there were some positives the manager is happy about. It’s going to be a challenging game but I believe we have what it takes to win. That’s the priority. We have to focus on ourselves, our performance, to win that game.”
And in the search for a first home win over Everton in a generation Vieira named his Palace starting line-up: Guaita, Ward (c), Tomkins, Guehi, Mitchell, Hughes, Kouyate, Gallagher, Ayew, Zaha and Edouard.
Not surprisingly, Everton manager Rafael Benitez wants to see a carbon copy from his side of the commitment, intensity, passion and performance that saw them deservedly come-from-behind to beat Arsenal last Monday at a raucous Goodison Park.
“It is really important for us to get three points and keep the momentum,” said Benitez. “We needed to win against Arsenal and the way we won was fantastic. The players gave everything until the last minute and the fans were behind the team all the way. It was so positive and I think everyone has had a boost. But, we have to take this momentum and mentality and team spirit into the next game.” He went on adding, “The game [Arsenal] was massive in every sense because everybody was working so hard and was together and we won. It was another confirmation this team has the spirit and when we stick together, we are stronger.”
Back at Finch Farm though, the treatment and rehabilitation rooms are still far too busy as the manager confirmed, “In terms of injuries, we still have Yerry (Mina) unavailable. Dominic (Calvert-Lewin) is getting closer with every training session he is doing with the rehabilitation coach. He is getting better. Salomon Rondon is available and has been training and Allan today [Friday] has done half of a training session. Then we have Tom Davies, and maybe next week he will start [training] with the team.”
On the perceived issue between himself and French left back Lucas Digne, Benitez responded saying, “He is training with the group, which is normal.”
Looking for back-to-back victories over London opposition and to continue the Blues fine record at Selhurst Park, Benitez named his starting eleven: Pickford, Coleman (c), Holgate, Keane, Godfrey, Gomes, Delph, Doucoure, Townsend, Gray and Richarlison.
For this televised footballing extravaganza, our referee in SE20 was Andy Madley.
An early stoppage saw Andre Gomes receive treatment after getting caught in the face by a flailing arm and a couple of early fouls by Fabian Delph as he looked to make a mark in the opening exchanges before Jordan Pickford made his first save to deny Ayew as he got on the end of a nice through ball from Edouard.
Another nice turn and pass from Edouard found Gallagher and the Chelsea loanee span away from Holgate to fire a shot just over the bar as Palace got into their stride before a cross from the right came through to Zaha and his first shot was beaten away by Pickford. Gallagher in particular was looking very lively and it took a good interception and clearance from Godfrey to halt another Palace attack.
A free kick conceded by Richarlison 35 yards out saw Gallagher bend a shot in but, it lacked sufficient power and direction to trouble Pickford who saved easily. A nice one-two between Gomes and Gray saw the latter have the Blues first effort on target, Guaita with a comfortable save as we passed the quarter hour mark.
Palace were having more than the lions share of possession however, you need to do something with the ball rather than just hog it and Everton, warming to the task, were stifling the home side quite effectively and it led to a spat of temper from Zaha towards Delph with referee Madley giving both a few words and resisting the temptation to wave yellow cards around.
A corner to Palace saw Gallagher work the ball into the area and a hurried clearance by Doucoure led to a shot being deflected away for a second set piece that was dealt with more comfortably by the Blues defence, and as we reached the half hour mark, it would be fair to say that the home side were looking more the likely although another good run and low shot from Gray saw Guaita need to make a save. Godfrey on a left wing charge got free to cross low into the area where Gomes arrived to shoot first time, Guaita again called upon to make a decent stop.
Keane to Gray and a nice inside ball to release Godfrey saw Gallagher race back to deny the Everton left back on another energetic foray into the Palace half of the field. Godfrey then showed his tackling ability getting back to deny Ayew racing onto a ball from Gallagher, still scoreless, the game whilst not a classic was far from a snoozefest. Another Palace corner came to nothing but, Palace kept the pressure on and a poor ball from Gray saw Ayew pick out the impressive Gallagher to open the scoring from twelve yards just four minutes before the break.
Everton tried to hit back quickly with Gray looking to correct his error and a shot from Gomes was deflected easily into the arms of Guaita before Ayew followed through a tackle on Holgate and momentarily, tempers threatened to boil over.
Doucoure had his legs taken by Kouyate to give the Blues a late free kick and opportunity to get the ball into the Palace area only for the home side to defend it rather too easily. And as two added minutes were signalled, surely manager Benitez had to be thinking of tactical and/or formation changes for the second half as 4-2-3-1 had proved completely ineffective in the first session.
Half Time: 1-0
Found myself shaking my head at no immediate changes for the second half by Everton, wasn’t expecting Palace to change what had proved very effective through the first half.
Palace back on the attack almost immediately, Ayew crossing through the area with Mitchell unable to get on the end of it. Edouard away, far too easily, from Gray and Delph fed Zaha and it needed a good tackle from Coleman to halt the fleet-footed left winger. Mitchell and Zaha combined down the left for Zaha to cross and find Gallagher, his header sliding wide of the back post – worryingly Palace had picked up their dominance straight away in the second half, Everton looking almost clueless as to how to compete.
Keane, despite a push in his back, did just enough to deny Gallagher and Edouard as they looked to get on the end of a long ball from midfield, and when the Blues tried to get forward through Doucoure looking to play in Coleman, Zaha raced back to win the ball and clear to halfway.
Ten minutes gone and Everton really were a poor second best in the game, Ayew lifting a ball over Keane for Gallagher to shoot from a tight angle, Pickford pushing it away for a corner that came to nothing. Surely the manager would make changes sooner rather than later to try and spark a fightback ???
And on 57 minutes a double change was made as Salomon Rondon and Anthony Gordon replaced Richarlison and Fabian Delph respectively, much to the disdain and disgust of the travelling support never mind the Brazilian, and a decision that at best can be described as mystifying and crudely as un****ingbelievable.
And the annoyance amongst the travelling support was further raised as Gray crossed an aimless free kick out for a goal kick. Palace countered to win another corner and pile more pressure on the Blues defence, and the ball came through the six yard area to fall kindly at the feet of Tomkins who poked home from two yards in 62 minutes.
Anthony Gordon won the first Everton corner on the right and predictably, Palace cleared easily and won a free kick for a foul by Doucoure. Gordon with an interception and quick pass to Gray saw him caught by Ward and from the free kick 35 yards out, Gray sent a curling effort just over the crossbar.
With twenty minutes to play, Everton reduced the arrears with a scruffy goal from Salomon Rondon after he’d found Doucoure and Palace failed to clear his shot and the loose ball fell to the Venezuelan to poke home.
Doucoure saw yellow for a foul and far too heated reaction towards the referee, and Palace used the stoppage to make a double change, sending on Benteke for Edouard and Schlupp for Hughes.
Everton tried to inject more pace into their game and Godfrey getting forward fed Rondon to set up Townsend for a shot that Ward was happy to deflect behind for a corner that came to nothing. Gray became the second Everton player to see yellow for a foul on Ayew as we entered the final quarter of an hour.
Benteke with his first involvement won a corner for Palace and Gomes put a low cross from Gallagher behind for another that was cleared. Some of the tackling was becoming, shall we say, edgy and Gomes irked the home fans with a robust challenge on Gallagher.
A run down the right from Gordon saw him get to the six yard area and Guaita parry his shot and the defence smuggle the ball clear, and the Blues wingman won a free kick for a foul by Mitchell with five minutes left on the clock. Could Everton find a late equaliser? Gordon, getting onto a nice ball frrom Townsend, again beat Mitchell to get in a cross, Guehi clearing long and Benteke going in late on Coleman, Holgate then going in on the Palace forward in retribution for the unpenalised foul on his skipper.
Clyne replaced Mitchell on 90 minutes as five more were signalled… five minutes Everton simply had to put to good use if they were going to draw level.
Suffice to say, Palace secured their first home win over Everton since 1994 as Gallagher pounced onto a clearance from Coleman to bend an excellent shot beyond the reach of Pickford and into the top corner. A late effort from Gray was easily held by Guaita and that was that.