Everton staged a quite remarkable second half fightback from a two-nil deficit, goals from Michael Keane, Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin sending Goodison absolutely wild as Premier League status was secured with an epic victory.
Thirty-six games have come and gone and for the most part, it has to be said that our beloved boys in the Royal Blue have woefully underperformed. But with two games left and the fans universally behind them, the visit of Crystal Palace for the final home game of this tortuous season, the team had the chance to allay the concerns and fears of the tremendous support.
The task was a painfully simple one – just win. We don’t care how, we don’t care who scores – just ****ing win. That said Crystal Palace, who have outscored us 7-1 in two games at Selhurst Park this season, won’t be overawed. And with the impressive Conor Gallagher in midfield and no shortage of pace and guile up front through the likes of Zaha, Mateta and Eze, they posed a considerable challenge to an Everton squad depleted by injuries and suspensions.
Speaking on Wednesday, Blues boss Frank Lampard impressed the absolutely massive importance of the Palace game when he said, “I am sure the supporters will be coming with everything, maybe even a bit more than they have in the past few weeks. We really appreciate that and it is such a big push for us… and we will try to make it a special night at Goodison.” He went further adding, “We need eleven Evertonians on the pitch and as subs. The players have to understand the occasion and tap into it. It is not the fifth game of the season when you’re trying to get yourself going. It is critical. We need to use that and the pressure on us in a good way.”
With Jarrad Branthwaite serving his one match suspension and Salomon Rondon out of both the Palace and Arsenal games, and with Yerry Mina missing with a calf injury, Michael Keane was a shoe-in to partner Mason Holgate in the centre of the defence. Lampard duly advised, “Michael has recovered and is fit to start. Ben Godfrey may be in the squad and that’s just testament to him striving to get fit.” The manager also advised that Donny van de Beek was available to face Palace but, Fabian Delph was out with a muscle strain.
He eventually named his starting eleven: Pickford, Coleman (c), Keane, Holgate, Mykolenko, Iwobi, Doucoure, Gomes, Gordon, Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin.
Crystal Palace arrived at Goodison looking to make it a hat-trick, clean sweep over the Blues having won 3-1 back in December and then cruising to a 4-0 FA Cup win in March. And Palace were still in a chance of finishing above Brighton, with whom they have a love-hate relationship for some bizarre reason, so Everton needed to be aware that they were not in flip-flops and beach mode just yet.
The Eagles fought back to draw at Aston Vanilla last Sunday and manager Patrick Vieira said, “I am really happy with that performance. From the first minute we played well and managed to control the game. We showed quality and character to get back into it and take a point. We tried out best but, when we get to the last third we didn’t always make the right decisions. This is one of the areas that next year we will need to be better.”
In team news, Michael Olise will miss both their remaining games but, former Leicester midfielder Jeffrey Schlupp is fit again and both Christian Benteke and former Celtic striker Odsonne Edouard were available to play alongside Wilfred Zaha.
Having weighed up his options, Vieira named his starting line-up: Butland, Clyde, Andersen, Guehi (c), Mitchell, Schlupp, Hughes, Eze, Ayer, Mateta and Zaha.
With the sun setting on a gorgeous day, our referee was Anthony Taylor.
Once again, the whole of Goodison sang prior to kick off, such support is absolutely priceless and could prove pivotal in this vital game. Early controversy as Gordon tackled ZHa who responded with a sly ankle tap and then raised his hands to push Gordon away, referee Taylor choosing just to reprimand them both.
Richarlison won the Blues first corner that Gordon took but didn’t beat the first defender. Zaha with a cross from the left found the head of Ayew but, his effort went well wide. Goodison was a crowd on steroids, cheering every tackle, every header, every pass and barracking Palace whenever they got the ball. Schlupp from the left won a corner off Gomes that came to nothing and the first ten minutes had simply flown by.
Palace trying to take the pace out of the game and quieten the crowd passed the ball around before trying to find Mateta, Holgate ensuring he couldn’t get to the ball. Richarlison was sandwiched five yards outside the Palace area, a great position for a free kick that he and Mykolenko seemed prepared to take. Richy took it and Butland appeared to touch it onto the crossbar and over, the ref awarded a goal kick.
Iwobi latched onto a loose ball to run thirty yards before feeding Gordon for a cross that was headed clear. An innocuous challenge by Gomes saw Palace given a free kick and when the ball was swung in, Mateta rose to beat Pickford with a downward header to give the visitors a 21st minute lead.
Richarlison fed Mykolenko to get forward and cross, Palace failing to clear and Coleman crossed from the right where Mykolenko didn’t get a good contact. Palace countered with Zaha feeding Mitchell and his cross was put behind by Keane for a corner that Pickford gathered easily.
Zaha ‘bought’ a free kick and Palace were beginning to knock the ball around confidently before Ayew crossed straight into the arms of Pickford, he launch a long ball that got to Richarlison who shot straight at Butland. Hughes was booked for bringing down Gordon, the offender then hooking the set piece clear. Ayew then lunged into Gordon, a foul that absolutely incensed the whole Everton team and crowd, and he only saw a yellow card.
Mateta then dispossessed Coleman to get forward and cross and with Everton struggling to clear a shot from Zaha, Ayew was able to steer it home for 0-2 on 36 minutes.
Everton were now very much behind the eight ball with Palace now able to dictate the pace of the game. Gordon found Gomes as Schlupp took him out, Gomes firing a low shot that Butland saved low to his right. Five minutes to half time, could Everton find something before the break?
Iwobi regaining possession spread the ball wide for Mykolenko to cross, Richarlison unable to direct his header on target. Mateta went down off the ball and the referee halted play much to the anger of many in the Bullens Road and four extra minutes were announced.
A cross from Mykolenko appeared to hit a Palace defenders arm before going out for a corner that was again, far too easily cleared, and the crowd tried to lift the Blues as they headed for the dressing room before loudly booing the referee.
Half Time: 0-2
Dele Alli came out during the break to warm up and joined the second half replacing Andre Gomes as Spirit of the Blues again rang down from the stands ahead of 45 minutes that could decide our destiny and footballing future.
Patient build-up play led to a great ball from Iwobi finding a Gordon for a low cross that went behind DCL and Palace cleared. They countered to win a corner on their left that Iwobi belted clear. Alli cross field to Gordon and he fed Iwobi but Clyde got back to prevent him getting a shot away.
A crunching tackle on Hughes by Doucoure saw him gain the Palace area before failing to find Alli with a poor pass. Everton won a free kick in midfield that Mykolenko took, found Holgate and his deft ball found Michael Keane who smashed it past Butland on 54 minutes.
The noise volume rose considerably as Goodison responded to the goal and Palace reacted by replacing Hughes with Milivojevic. Guehi blasted another low cross from Gordon into the Bullens Road and from the throw-in, Ayew conceded a corner that again was abjectly poor.
Palace won a corner as Holgate denied Mateta, DCL with the clearing header that saw Zaha bring down Alli. And Everton made a second change, Demarai Gray replacing Anthony Gordon with half an hour to play.
The referee ignored a foul on Doucoure by Milivojevic and when Palace countered, Pickford denied Mateta with a quality reaction save at the expense of a corner that led to Schlupp shot straight at Pickford. Coleman picked out by Doucoure saw his cross cleared before Keane was booked for a foul on Eze.
Zaha was rightly booked for bringing down Alli as he looked to launch an Everton attack and a long ball from Pickford saw DCL win a corner on the Blues right that saw Butland hold onto a low shot from Doucoure. Palace were now not averse to time wasting when they could. A good cross from Mykolenko found DCL but, he couldn’t get a meaningful header on it and Palace wasted more valuable seconds with the goal kick.
Palace replaced Schlupp with Conor Gallagher on 73 minutes and Goodison went crazy as Pickford found Gray, he beat two men to find Coleman for a cross to Alli and his little inside pass saw Richarlison beat Butland for 2-2.
Clouds of blue smoke swirled around the Grand old Lady as the crowd responded to the fightback with a wall of noise. Could Everton find a winner in the twelve minutes remaining?
Ayew and Gallagher drew fouls from Mykolenko and Doucoure before former RS Christian Benteke replaced Mateta with ten minutes remaining in normal time. With Pickford playing almost as a makeshift sweeper, Everton won another free kick as Zaha brought down Coleman, Gray finding the diving Dominic Calvert-Lewin for an archetypal centre forwards header and the goal heralded a mini pitch invasion and wild scenes in all four stands.
The noise was quire deafening as order was restored and the game restarted and a phalanx of stewards lined the sides of the pitch. Jonjoe Kenny replaced the exhausted Richarlison as seven added minutes were signalled.
Cute play from Holgate drew a foul from Gallagher and Everton now wasted valuable seconds. Pickford was hurt punching away from Benteke but, picked himself up carry on.
And the final whistle saw an outpouring of emotion and noise that will go down in football history.