A game of very little quality saw a welcome return to the first team for Dominic Calvert-Lewin and a disappointingly double booking and red card for Mason Holgate as the Blues ten men held on for a point that might yet prove crucial.
After dispensing with the services of Patrick Vieira, Crystal Palace astounded many football fans and pundits be re-appointing veteran manager Roy Hadgson to try to steer the Eagles to Premier League safety… and boy, what a decision that has turned out to be. Three games back as Palace boss and he’s not only steadied the ship, he’s recorded three straight wins to take nine invaluable points and, barring a monumental collapse, the safety he was entrusted with securing has been achieved.
Speaking this week, the ever humble Hodgson gave the credit to his team saying, “I’ve found it’s an incredibly good group of players that the club have put together. I knew, of course, many of them – a very solid base of players that I worked with when I was there, who I had great respect and admiration for. But, of course, the new and younger players that have been brought in since I left the club have been very impressive, so it’s o f course a very strong group.”
He enthused adding, “The competition for places is strong, and of course it’s players that win football matches, and that’s been my good fortune: to find out there is a good group players here, who are capable of winning football matches.”
Pushed about the part he has played, the former England boss commented, “I do believe very much in the environment [within the squad]. I think that you do need to try and work hard [on it] as a coach. And this isn’t something which is particularly specific to me and Crystal Palace now, it’s something that I’ve really believed in all of my coaching life. The job, if you like, is to sell your ideas to players, to convince them that if you work this way, and do these things in training, and conduct yourself in this way and all do it together, we’re going to have success.”
With only Nathaniel Clyne and Wilfried Zaha unavailable having not yet returned to training after injuries, Palace went with the same squad that was victorious over Southampton last weekend, and that allowed Roy Hodgson to name an unchanged starting line-up: Johnstone, Ward (c), Andersen, Guehi, Mitchell, Eze, Doucoure, Schlupp, Olise, Edouard and Ayew.
The reaction around Everton following the frankly awful display against Fulham was one of some despondency and for manager Sean Dyche, it’s been a week of trying to rebuild individual and team confidence for the trip to Selhurst Park. And the boss is all too painfully aware that the Blues form away from Goodison in recent seasons has been nothing short of pathetic. He spoke about the need to improve on the road saying, “The [away record] hasn’t been great for a couple of seasons. For sure, it’s tactical, but it’s also a mentality thing as well. You’ve got to be ready as if it’s a home game and deliver as if it’s a home game. It’s taking on the challenge. People say, ‘They can’t do this away, they can’t do that away’, so I remind the players to change that. Let’s change that noise. Let’s change that story. You can’t just wait for some magic dust to make it change. It’s down to us as a collective force to make that happen. That’s what I’ve been relaying to the players. Let’s not wait for things to happen. Let’s make things happen. Let’s change the rhetoric and the story.”
Like the watching fans, Dyche was bemused by the Fulham performance and noted, “I’ve spoken since I got here about the consistency of what we do, and we lost that throughout the performance against Fulham. It’s not just a week-by-week consistency, it’s actually throughout a game. We just lost the details; a couple of inconsistent moments, and we got punished. That’s sometimes what the Premier League does to you.”
He closed adding, “We’ve got enough experience in the squad. They’re not stupid. They know when we’ve stepped off what we were doing. We remind them, go through it with them, and show them some analysis. I think they were as disappointed as I was by the reaction to, simply, going down by a goal.”
With Abdoulaye Doucoure serving the last of his three-match ban for assaulting Harry Kane’s eyebrow, Dyche gave an update on the players missing last week when he advised first on Dominic Calvert-Lewin, “He will certainly be in my thinking, without a doubt. The behind-closed-doors match on Tuesday was all about him, really. It was the end of a rehab period so we’re very pleased that he came through that and he felt good.” On midfielder Amadou Onana and defenders Seamus Coleman and Ruben Vinagre he added,
“Amadou has made a bit more of a recovery. He was training today and we’ll see how that reacts tomorrow. Seamus won’t be right for this one. Ruben has got an injury and may need surgery, we are not sure yet. He’s seeing a specialist so that decision will be made imminently.”
With the need for a win uppermost in the minds of every Evertonian, the quest for goals was paramount and Blues everywhere held their breath waiting for the 2pm team news that saw Sean Dyche make two changes in naming his starting eleven: Jordan Pickford (c), Mason Holgate, Michael Keane, James Tarkowski, Vitalii Mykolenko, Alex Iwobi, Idrissa Gana Gueye, James Garner, Demarai Gray, Dwight McNeil and Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
On a cool but dry South London afternoon with yet another sold-out contingent of travelling Blues, our referee was John Brooks.
The Blues in their all-gold away strip got a tremendous welcome from those travelling fans and they saw a slightly lucky escape as Pickford tried to shepherd the ball out of play and Schlupp kept it in, the England keeper happily dropping on it and sharing a laugh with the Palace player. Dwight McNeil took the Bues first shot that Johnstone gathered easily low to his left hand side.
The Palace goalie was alert to a long ball from James Garner aimed towards DCL being quick off his line to volley clear from outside his penalty area, and with Everton pressing forward in the early exchanges, Mykolenko saw a cross charged down and cleared. Alex Iwobi chipped a ball towards DCL who got the header in but without the power or direction to unduly trouble Johnstone. Ayew won a free kick from Mason Holgate and then got on the end of the free kick from Olise but, his header cleared the crossbar.
Palace won the first corner as Holgate denied Ayew the chance to control and cross, and when Mitchell chipped the ball into the six-yard area, Edouard went in too hard on Pickford who did get his fist to the ball. A quarter of an hour gone and Palace had settled slightly the better and another free kick for a foul by Gray gave them another chance to get bodies forward, Tarkowski heading a cross from Mitchell clear. A long ball over the top for Eze saw him fail to control and Pickford gathered easily and when the Blues pushed forward, Mitchell fouled Gray on the right flank that brought nothing despite McNeil twice lifting the ball into the Palace area where it was cleared.
The home side were having much more of the ball now and Olise came in off the right to send in a low shot that Pickford handled easily, and passing the midway point of the half, Mitchell volleyed a shot high over the bar after Ayew had got on the end of a left wing cross. Garner was fouled by Mitchell and he was rightly yellow carded, McNeil again not making the most of the set piece opportunity. A push in the back on Mykolenko by Ward gave the Bleus their best free kick opportunity so far but, again the set piece was poor until a snap shot volley from Alex Iwobi was excellently saved by Johnstone low to his right – best chance of the game so far by either side.
Eze and Edouard played a one-two on the edge of the Everton area, Eze going down and claiming he was fouled and the referee adamant in correctly waving away half-hearted penalty appeals. Holgate was somewhat harshly booked for blocking Ayew, the free kick easily claimed by Jordan Pickford. DCL cutting in off the left saw a shot saved low to his left by Johnstone and the Blues centre forward was then spoken too for a foul on Andersen. Ayew away from Holgate and Gana Gueye blocked his shot out for a corner that was defended.
Inside the final five minutes of the half and Keane, getting to the ball ahead of Schlupp, headed a cross from Olise clear. One added minute was signalled at the end of a half that for all the effort from both sets of players had lacked any real quality.
Half Time: 0-0
Neither manager made any changes for the second half that began in bright sunshine and Mitchell, booked in the first half, was lucky not to see a second yellow for a foul on Demarai Gray that saw the Blues player limp away as McNeil crossed deep for Keane, Palace getting it clear at the second attempt. The home side won the first corner of the half, DCL heading the Olise corner away and a second cross from the Palace winger sailed straight into the hands of Pickford.
Gana Gueye was caught painfully by Eze and needed treatment while the travelling Blues raised a rendition of Spirit of the Blues. Palace thought they’d taken the lead in the 57th minute as a ball was lofted over the Blues backline for Eze to then chip it over Pickford… before the offside flag was rightly raised. The game was following a similar pattern to that of the first half – no real quality about the play of either side although Palace were still having more of the possession.
An hour gone and Pickford was quick off his line to clear a ball from Schlupp aimed for Olise, the long clearance finding Iwobi and he set up DCL only for his shot to beat both Johnstone and the outside of the post. DCL was booked for ‘persistent infringements’ on 62 minutes and a crunching tackle by Tarkowski was felt by Olise. Edouard took down Gray and wasn’t booked (?) wide on the right, Garner flighting the free kick and eventually, Palace got the ball out of play for a throw-in. Into the final twenty minutes and looking to break the deadlock and it was Palace who made the first changes, Hughes replacing Schlupp and a Mateta replacing Edouard.
Everton won their first corner of the game in the 73rd minute, could they forge a goal from the set piece? McNeil curled it in and a free kick was given against Michael Keane for a foul on Doucoure. Another foul by Mitchell on Gray gave the Blues another chance to get bodies forward in search of a vital goal, McNeil finding the head of Tarkowski but, Mateta getting the ball clear for the home side. Down the other end and Ayew fed Eze for a curling effort that Pickford shovelled away for a corner. Olise sent it deep for Doucoure to shoot and it was blocked off Iwobi for another corner that saw Doucoure nearly hit the roof of the stand behind the goal so wild was his effort… and he was immediately withdraw in favour of Milivojevic.
With news coming through that Leicester were ahead against Wolves, the Blues were in the bottom three and the need for a goal was even more desperate.
Everton were reduced to ten men in the 80th minute as a poor decision by the referee saw him brandish a second yellow and then a red at Mason Holgate. Ben Godfrey immediately came on for Demarai Gray to strengthen the rearguard and there were immediate calls for handball against the Blues sub.
Tarkowski blocked an Olise shot after a mazy run by the Palace striker and Palace won another corner as they went in search of a winner. DCL with a clearing header and when Palace came again, a shot from Milivojevic was deflected away and Palace won an eighth corner, that was easily defended.
Five minute left in normal time and Everton were now defending to retain the point they started the game with. Jordan Pickford with a terrific save from Eze as two Palace players closed in looking for a rebound and the seconds ticked away. Palace worked the ball forward again and Keane hoofed it clear before Mitchell and Eze tried to work an opening, Mitchell blasting high and wide.
Neal Maupay was the cameo replacement for DCL on 90 minutes as five added minutes were announced. Tarkowski with a good tackle denied Mateta the chance to get free and moments later Mateta fouled Tarkowski, Everton in no great rush to take the free kick. Pickford launched it long and Andersen cleared under pressure from Maupay. Neither side could find a winner and a game of poor quality finally came to a close.