At half-time of this dramatic Premier League encounter it appeared that Everton’s top-flight status, dating back continuously to 1954, was going to be decided on the final day of the season. By the end, Frank Lampard was treating the rostrum in front of the directors box as a stage and leading a pitchful of joyous Everton supporters in song. Was it really going to happen any other way.
Behind by two goals at the break, Everton scored three times in the second half to ensure that they will be among the elite once more next season. This doesn’t fix the deeper issues at a club that has been a picture of dysfunctionality of late, but this was not a day to dwell on that. An evening that started with raucous encouragement, went through a full range of emotions but the lasting sound was that off relief. They needed two points from their last two games and secured three here in their penultimate outing.
The players were mobbed on the final whistle and stayed around to enjoy the post-match celebrations, this was as much a relief for them as those in the stands. This has been a torturous campaign for Everton but at least Lampard and his team can enjoy their trip to Arsenal on Sunday, upon which nothing hinges for them.
When Jean-Philippe Mateta and Jordan Ayew put Crystal Palace in the first half, it seemed that Everton were scuppering another chance at survival; the third time in just eight days. But a much stronger display in the second half and goals from Michael Keane, Richarlison and a 85th-minute winner from Dominic Calvert-Lewin swung the game Everton’s way.
Story of the game
The Rocky theme was given a quick blast prior to kick-off in an attempt to create the fighting spirit needed. The home crowd didn’t need much encouragement. They had lined the streets to give their team a ferocious welcome and then whipped up quite a din as the players emerged. The supporters had done their bit, now it was down to those on the pitch.
Well there was certainly early intent from Lampard’s team, which was featuring Keane at the heart of the defence in their only change. Anthony Gordon led the charge, as he often does, but Palace have attackers that can spring out of nowhere — even though Conor Gallagher was rotated out in one of three changes.
That told after they had weathered a fast opening 20 minutes from Everton, in which Jack Butland tipped Richarlison’s free-kick onto the crossbar. Eberechi Eze had greater success with his set-piece, the Palace winger curled a free-kick in from the left and Mateta ran in behind Abdoulaye Doucoure and Vitaliy Mykolenko to head past Jordan Pickford.
Silence greeted the breakthrough and Palace’s midfield started to dominate, running Andre Gomes ragged. The Everton midfielder’s evening only lasted the first half — as he was substituted for Dele Alli at the break to great effect — but he left his team in an even worse position.
There was an element of controversy to Palace’s second. Only three minutes before Ayew found the back of the net, he had performed a scissor challenge on Gordon right under the nose of Lampard, who has been left aggrieved by a number of refereeing decisions his side have encountered in recent weeks. Anthony Taylor deemed Ayew’s tackle only worthy of a yellow, it could easily have been red.
Quickly enough, Mateta had spun Seamus Coleman on midway and ran down the left flank. His cross was pushed out by Pickford but only to Wilfried Zaha, whose instinctive effort was pushed into the air by the Everton ‘keeper. Ayew, in the right place at the right time, stuck his right leg out to poke the ball goalwards, neither Mykolenko nor Doucoure could stop it from trickling over the goalline. Blue language filled the air.
Lampard had called for “more of the same” after being impressed by his team’s overall performance against Brentford despite defeat, but the Everton manager was seeing something rather different here. Palace were buoyant and looked difficult to halt. However, by the 55th minute, Everton were halfway there. Once more it originated from a set-piece; Mykolenko fired it in from deep and Mason Holgate headed the ball back into the danger area where Keane was on hand to jab past Butland. Blue smoke rose once again.
The needle that had been present throughout the first half came to the fore again when Calvert-Lewin placed a hefty challenge on Nathaniel Clyne; not too dissimilar to Ayew’s earlier on. Lampard sent on Demarai Gray as Everton started to make base camp in the final third. The Gwladys Street End by this stage were trying to suck the ball in.
The equaliser arrived on 75 minutes. Coleman cut in from the right and pinged a cross to Dele at the far post. The substitute chested the ball down but Joachim Andersen got his foot to the loose ball. Richarlison was quick to react, however, and finished past Butland. Goodison erupted but still one more goal was needed. It came with four minutes remaining.
Palace gave away a free-kick to the right of their area, Gray put the ball down with purpose and delivered an inviting ball into the area. Calvert-Lewin threw himself to meet it and sent a low header into the bottom corner. Some supporters ran onto the pitch but were quickly shepherded off, the job was not yet done. Seven minutes of stoppage time had to be negotiated. When they were, Everton could release a season’s worth of tension.
Everton: Pickford; Coleman, Keane, Holgate; Iwobi, Doucoure, Gomes (Dele 46), Mykolenko; Gordon (Gray 61), Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison (Kenny 90).
Subs (not used): Begovic, Godfrey, Welch, Allan, van de Beek, Davies.
C Palace: Butland; Clyne, Andersen, Guehi, Mitchell; Schlupp (Gallagher 74), Hughes (Milivojevic 57), Eze; Ayew, Mateta (Benteke 81), Zaha.
Subs (not used): Guaita, Ward, Kelly, Kouyate, Rak-Sakyi, Edouard.
Referee: Anthony Taylor.