There was an annoying air of inevitability about this result, not least because we were playing one of our bogey sides at Goodison Park in the form of Crystal Palace, a team we haven't beaten at home since 2005 and who have made a habit of preying on our weaknesses in this fixture over the past couple of seasons.
There was also the as-sure-as-night-follows-day predictability of Everton passing up an opportunity to take advantage of a number of favourable results above them over the course of the weekend by failing to win the kind of match that they just have to if they are to have a realistic shot at Champions League qualification this season. If the wins over Aston Villa and Sunderland pointed towards a team coalescing nicely into the kind of outfit capable of sneaking into the top four while other, better-financed teams struggle for consistency then the last two draws in the Premier League serve as a reminder that until this Blues side finds a way to grind out maximum points from winnable matches, they are destined to fall short yet again.
Sixth place and a berth just two points behind the top five beckoned if the Blues could fashion a win. Instead, they found themselves forced to chase a game again after falling behind; the requisite urgency prompted by Scott Dann's 76th-minute opener leading to a more direct approach that had hitherto been all too erratic in the final third and an equaliser within five minutes through Romelu Lukaku.
And yet, despite their propensity to over-elaborate in the final third, to try and walk the ball through an entrenched defence, and their unwillingness at times to "play the percentages" and shoot when the defence opened up in front of them, with a more favourable look from Lady Luck Everton would have earned the victory that, on balance, they deserved. Wayne Hennessey pulled off a quite brilliant save to tip Tom Cleverley's blistering volley over midway through the second half and even when their 'keeper was beaten, Palace were saved by favourable bounces off the frame of the goal. Twice Lukaku rattled the woodwork with well-struck efforts while Conor Wickham almost did the Blues' job for them when he back-headed Ross Barkley's free kick onto his own bar.
Some of the football from Everton was sublime – a delicious backheel here, a deft flick-on or one-two interchange there – and it felt for long periods that all they (in essence, "they" meant Deulofeu, such was the faith in and reliance on the Spaniard's trickery and delivery) had to do was get the final ball right and they would grind out the win.
They had started well, with the kind of energy and purpose that buoyed the 35,000+ crowd into thinking that a home Premier League win was on the cards after the disappointment at Bournemouth last weekend, and it took just seven minutes for Ross Barkley and Lukaku to exchange passes on the edge of the Palace box and the former to curl an audacious shot just wide of the far post.
Their initial fire was quelled, though, as the visitors looked to get forward down the flanks and test their hosts' notorious susceptibility to crosses and when Yannick Bolasie neatly side-stepped Ramiro Funes Mori on the touchline and whipped a cross to the near post, Tim Howard had to make a point-blank block with his chest to deny Wickham with a quarter of an hour gone.
Everton coped well enough with the aerial threat, though, and, after resuming their control of the contest, they came within an inch or two of taking the lead. Lukaku spun smartly on a loose ball just outside the Palace penalty area and unleashed a low drive that cannoned off the inside of the post and flew agonisingly across the face of Hennessey's goal and out towards the corner flag.
The Belgian then put his foil and strike partner Arouna Kone in with a neat flick but the Ivorian blazed wide with his weaker foot, Barkley almost got in on the end of a Deulofeu cross to the near post, and Galloway almost teed Lukaku up in front of goal from John Stones's cross after the centre half had taken Pape SouarĂ© out of the picture completely with a superb cut-back bear the byline.
Then, as half-time approached, Seamus Coleman, having one of his best games all season, unloaded with an accurate left-foot shot that would likely have tested the goalkeeper sternly had not deflected off a defender's head and behind for a corner.
Though they had been held goalless in the first 45 minutes for the first time since mid-October, there was plenty about which Martinez could be encouraged from his side's display in the first period. Cleverley was banishing impressively concerns that the loss of James McCarthy would leave Everton vulnerable in their own half with a robust and enterprising display and though Deulofeu was clearly still finding his range, the law of averages suggested that sooner or later one of his deliveries would open up the opposition back line.
Funes Mori was looking uncharacteristically shaky at centre back – he would deteriorate as the evening went on and he was fortunate that eagle-eyed referee Craig Pawson saw no contact on an ill-advised slide tackle late in the second half that could have ended with a penalty and red card with a less observant official – but Palace were not showing much desire to mount sustained attacks so they were mostly restricted to balls in from wide areas.
That left the Blues to continue with the pattern established in the first half after the restart but they found Palace's defence difficult to break down, with shots and crosses ending with a succession of corners – 13 in all over the course of the match – that, despite three different set-piece takers, failed to make a dent. Still, Kone side-footed over when he might have done better with Lukaku's layoff and Barkley ended another quick counter-attack following the Ivorian's interception inside his own half by heading narrowly wide of the near post.
The Londoners, now exploiting the space behind Leighton Baines as the second-half substitute tried to open up attacking avenues down the much-ignored left flank, almost profited with a break-away of their own but although Bolasie accelerated away from Stones, Howard anticipated the danger well and saved the Congolese winger's shot with an out-stretched foot. After Cleverley's lovely strike had been turned over by Hennessey at one end, the Everton keeper would be called upon again at the other when Yohan Cabaye's run into the box was ended by Stones' last-ditch challenge and the ball broke to Jason Puncheon but Howard parried his shot away for a corner.
That proved to be one set-piece too many and it was all so "Everton, that" when, after 76 minutes of patient probing by the Blues in one direction, they should concede another soft goal from a corner and find themselves chasing the game in the final quarter of an hour. Neither Kone nor Gareth Barry tracked Dann as the ball was floated in from the Palace right and the defender powered an easy header down the centre of the goal with Howard distracted by the obstruction by Wickham in front of him.
The response from Everton – and Lukaku in particular – was almost immediate and spectacular. The striker knocked Barry's forward pass to the side, rolled off his marker and despatched a ripping left-footed half-volley that had Hennessey beaten all ends up but the ball ricocheted defiantly off the underside of the crossbar and back into play.
Lukaku would not be denied a few minutes later, though, when Deulofeu picked by Barkley's slide-rule pass, danced his way along the byline and when one of his low centres finally made its way across goal, albeit via a nick off Barry's leg, it fell invitingly for the Belgian who couldn't miss in front of goal to notch his 50th goal for Everton in his 100th appearance for the club.
Having wrested the initiative back with 10 minutes to go, the stage appeared set perhaps for some fresh legs and ideas off the bench – Kone, for example, had been an excellent foil for Lukaku for much of the game but he again looked like he was running in treacle by the closing stages – in an effort to win it but, mystifyingly, Martinez elected to leave the likes of Kevin Mirallas and Aaron Lennon on the sidelines. Unfortunately, those he left on the field couldn't fashion the clear-cut opening that would have delivered all three points, although a couple of inviations to shoot to Deulofeu and Lukaku in the final minutes were spurned and promising openings went begging as the game fizzled out.
There is much buzz about Martinez's excting young side and there is still a feeling that they are still learning and improving, but there is an inescapable sense that Everton are in a race against time when it comes to keeping the group wholly intact. Lukaku, in particular, is in the kind of irresistible form that will make it impossible to keep him from the covetous attentions of clubs that are able to offer him a seat at European football's top table or to persuade him that he should spend another year at Goodison if we're not playing in Europe.
Stones, meanwhile, demonstrated precisely why he is being talked about as a potential long-term replacement for Gerard Pique at Barcelona with some wonderful moments in both halves of the field. And if Barkley and Deulofeu weren't quite at the top of their game, they are no longer strangers to observers of the English game.
Everton are teetering on the cusp of something here thanks to the mix of youthful talent and more tried experience that Martinez has assembled but it remains tantalisingly out of reach at the moment. Few would have thought that we would see such opportunity in a wide open race for the top four so soon after Manchester United's quick reovery from their post-Sir Alex decline of two seasons ago but the Toffees' mere five wins and their failure to beat any of the top 10 so far this season are illustrative of a continuing lack of ruthlessness, single-mindedness and defensive solidity that are hallmarks of successful, winning teams.
The nature of the top half of the league is such that it's not too late if Martinez can find the answers – not only in terms of his team's collective menatality but also his own game management – over what is a vital period over the next month then the potential to "achieve", in the manager's words, is still there.
Everton return to Premier League action for the televised Monday match with the incentive of sitting in sixth place by the end of the evening if they can overcome Crystal Palace at Goodison Park.
Roberto Martinez makes two changes from the side that won at Middlesbrough with Tom Cleverley continuing in place of the injured James McCarthy, Arouna Kone coming back in for Leon Osman and Tim Howard reclaiming his place in goal.
The Eagles kicked off and Wickham was soon firing in at Howard before the Blues had much possession, with Palace snapping at Blues heels. Barkley played a lovely ball from deep for Galloway to run onto but who was almost too deliberate with his cross. Everton were trying some neat flicks and clips but it broke down and Palace were attacking again in what promised to be a very lively game, Funes Mori doing very well to intercept.
More intricate passing down the right seemed to have Coleman penetrating but his cross went behind Lukaku. Yet more clever stuff, Barkley, Kone and Lukaku finally overpassing, but then Barkley did a lovely one-two off Lukaku and curled a great shot that flew just past the far post.
Deulofeu almost got free but his first touch was not the best and it ran through to the keeper. a couple of crosses in by Palace were defended away but they were worryingly getting to the byeline. But Stones did superbly to control and play the ball out to Barry, whose first-time out-ball was too ambitious.
Palace then won another corner crossed in dangerously and on the second ball Wickham was alert to delivery a point-blank header straight at Tim Howard's sternum. Bolaise then controlled a good diagonal cross with his hand — not called.
It was Everton's turn to attack and Deulofeu magically kept control in a zig-zag move inside but Lukaku was crowded out and Barry's attempt charged down by close attention of the Palace defenders.
Lukaku did brilliantly to create a superb chance with a return ball from Barkley and a tremendous strike that smashed off the inside of the post and along the line, just a foot in front of the other post. So close!
The Blues combined superbly again, Coleman to Lukaku to Kone but the Ivorian's hurried shot was high and wide in a good spell for the Blues that needed to produce a goal. Deulofeu whipped in a great cross right to Lukaku's feet but it came back off the Big Man, who could not control it.
Kone did some good defensive work on a Palace free-kick. Stones forged forward and they tried another close-quarter passing move down the middle but it was just too crowded for that to work.
When Palace attacked again, Funes Mori showed great composure and timing to break their progress. But Everton were stymied again as Palace got back in solid and impenetrable defence as Deulofeu's cross flew long.
Deulofeu got free off a great Barkley flick. Then a brilliant piece of work from Stones, a deep cross on the byeline that Funes Mori pushed back in but Lukaku wanted the ball to fall for him rather than throwing his body at it... and the chance was gone. The lively ebb and flo continued with another Palace attack being denied.
Deulofeu had another opportunity to cross early but this time straight to Hennessey in the Palace goal. The next attack looked more promising with Cleverly running free but again Palace formed that solid wall and Deulofeu could only fire at a defender's legs. Was he running out of ideas?
Ward looked to fir in but Stones's sliding tackle was perfect, and Everton advanced again, ending with a Coleman shot deflected for a corner, short to Deulofeu and again more intricate passing, the Spaniard winning another corner. Barry crossed deep but Stones was under it and it looked like Kone would get a chance in the second phase but one pass too many when a shot on goal would have been preferred.
Barry chipped one in for Lukaku who was driven wide and then blocked by Delaney. Off another corner, the ball fell to Barry but his shot was far too tame. Some great pass-and-move from Everton in a very competitive first half but no end product despite tremendous creative effort.
Everton attacked from the restart and attacked spiritedly, winning a couple of corners, but nothing came of them and the game pattern continued, with alternating bouts of determined attacking and stalwart defending, apart from Barry's cynical shirt-tugging on a Palace corner! Kone eventually broke and his second cross was headed just wide.
Bolaise looked odds-on to break the deadlock after dodging Stones but Howard made himself big, his outstretched foot stopping a certain goal against. Everton, backed by an increasingly boisterous crowd, seemed to be upping the tempo and imposing even more pressure
Ward fouled Galloway wide left and Barkley flashed in a brilliant rocket of a delivery that Wickham glanced onto the bar and away. Everton kept up the pressure but it ended with a silly claim for handball when Ward took one in the stomach, with his hands tucked behind his back.
Baines replaced Galloway just after the hour mark, despite a solid display from the youngster. Lukaku played in CLeverley who struck a wonderful shot but Hennessey pulled off a tremendous save.
Baines showed his old self, picking out Lukaku with a 40-yard ball as Everton every way they could think of to get a decent strike on the Palace goal, Deulofeu involved repeatedly, but the winning move just would not happen.
After more determined Everton pressure, Palace came very close on the counter, a snapshot form Puncheon bringing out another tremendous save from Howard. But from the corner, Scott Dann was there to power home a header that Howard could only waft at as he fell backwards.
Lukaku did his best with an excellent strike that beat Hennessy all hands down but smacked off the bar. Deulofeu and Cleverley combined down the right to win a corner. From it, Deulofeu advanced again, as he had countless times before, but this time a perfect cross low, through to the far post, thanks to a dummy by Barry, and there was Lukaku to force it home.
Bolasie almost got through but Barry got the vital block as Everton were stretched. Funes Mori appeared to have given away a penalty with a late tackle on Mutch but perhaps not enough contact.
Everton tried again and again in the last few minutes to create more chances for the winner but it seemed destined not to happen, while Palace had a late resurgence and tested Howard a couple more times. In the end, Palace kept possession to the final whistle, despite a breakaway that saw Lukaku unable to get off a shot.
Hugely disappointing for Everton, who threw everything (except Mirallas) at this but Palace were the epitome of obdurate, and hard to deny them a very hard-earned point.
Everton: Howard, Coleman, Stones, Funes Mori [Y:88'], Galloway (63' Baines), Barry, Cleverley, Deulofeu, Barkley, Kone, Lukaku.
Subs:Robles, Gibson, Osman, Mirallas, Lennon, Naismith.
Subs: Speroni, Bamford, Campbell, Gayle, Mutch, Chamakh, Kelly.
Kick off: 8pm
Referee: Craig Pawson
From My Seat: Crystal Palace (H)
Palace at home on another wet and windy night ensured I checked out the Winslow roof as I made my way down Goodison Road. Well you can’t be too careful can you? Team was as expected with Cleverley in for the injured McCarthy.
Palace kicked off and you could see they were set up to defend deep but with pace aplenty to execute quick breaks and it was Palace who started quickest. Wickham had a shot that Howard made a bit of a meal of before clutching it to him as he sprawled. Mori was to the fore in making a few clearances and from one Barkley got the ball just short of the box and curled one just wide. Palace were having the better of this first quarter and from one cross hard and low the ball was hammered from point blank range and hit Howard and was cleared with some difficulty.
After that early pressure we started to regain some composure and on twenty minutes Barkley and Lukaku combined well. Lukaku turned his man and hit one leaving keeper stranded hit the post and rebounded out—Drat said the faithful! We were playing some joined up stuff now and pushing Palace deeper than even they wanted to go. From one move we got Kone in but his left foot shot was wide and a bit wild really.
The half hour mark was reached and Coleman and Deulofeu forced the Palace defender to give away a corner which was cleared but Stones who had stayed up sprayed one wide to Galloway who took it a pace forward and hit a low one across the box that but for a sliding hack clear by a defender would have been a tap in for Lukaku
It was our turn to dominate now as Deulofeu got a cross in that eluded Lukaku. Coleman joined the attack and found himself middle of goal some twenty yards out but his powerful shot cannoned for a corner off a relieved defender. The corner came to nought. Then Deulofeu raided again and got another corner which we kept in the box with some neat incisive short passes but that final touch and shot could not be found. Barry set up Lukaku in the box but a corner was the best he could get as the Palace filled the box with players making even a chink to shoot at hard to spot. Pardew sure has got them well drilled, which I took as a complement to our team.
The half ticked down with both teams giving the ball away as both tried in their own ways to conjure something. Cabaye had orchestrated well for them with Barry at the hub of our best attacks and Barkley looking more like the player he is tipped to become.
H/T 0-0 with most I spoke to enjoying the half and thought it only a matter of time before we scored.
We started brightly and quickly gained two corners which came to nought, then Palace had two corners which we dealt with and from the second one we broke and Kone received the ball and headed for the box. Barkley made up good ground but Kone could not find the right ball to put him in despite having two attempts, his first effort came back to him and his second was just behind Barkley who did get his head to it but his body shape was all wrong by then and the ball toward goal was weak and the keeper dealt easily with it.
Palace now started to push a few more forward on the counter and the game became end to end again which caused tension and excitement in both boxes. Deulofeu was causing havoc to their rearguard now and we were getting the ball out to him as often as possible. With Lukaku looking like the complete centre forward the combination of the two of them seemed most likely to get us in front yet Palace always seemed to have so many bodies in there and getting the vital touch to break our momentum. We gave Deulofeu a rest and went down the left and sent Galloway on his way but he was fouled and gained a free kick which Barkley whipped in dangerously and at pace, it hit someone and then the post and again came out, That’s twice the post has won.
The hour mark arrived and our present manager swapped Galloway for Baines. Galloway had done nothing wrong but his attacking had been better than his defending which is a bit odd for a player who is a centre back in waiting. Our next big chance came when the hard working Lukaku neatly set up Cleverley on the edge of the box with a clear sight of goal, he hit it sweetly and with GOAL in our throats the Welsh keeper made a great tip over save by diving across and up and palming over from just inside the top corner. An excellent save.
It was all Everton now and although being almost camped in their box we had to be wary of their fast breaks as a few times they had our hearts in mouths. We were committing more men forward and that left us looking a touch short as they looked to break. That is how they had come to play and they were showing they were well drilled in it and always dangerous. We did force three corners but all were crowded away.
75 minutes and although we were on top a quick break saw Cabaye beat Stones but not Howard who diverted it for a corner. That was delivered in regulation fashion – what went on with our marking I do not know but Dann had a free header which he did not miss and we were one down. Totally gutting and against the run of play but you have to say they made no secret of how they would deal with us. Still a downer though. What is it with us and set pieces?
We showed spirit and had a go back and within minutes a through-ball saw Lukaku get on the end of it, beat his man and hit the bar. The thought this is just not our night came to my mind. Three times we had hit the woodwork now and that would have deflated many teams but fair play to our lads they kept at it. Then at last we got our reward. Coleman started a move that saw the ball delivered to Deulofeu and this time his low hard cross was met at the far post by that man Lukaku and its 1-1 and Goodison rocking.
Those last ten minutes were bedlam as the Street tried to suck in a winner. We went for it and committed more forward which Palace noted and put a couple of pacy lads on and at times it was hairy stuff as they broke on our forays forward. In these last ten minutes Deulofeu was out on his feet and his passing was all over the place which made me wonder why our present manager didn’t put Mirallas on for a final push. It seemed mental tiredness with Deulofeu more than physical.
3 minutes added goes up on the board and a big ’Come On’ engulfed the ground. Palace had one attack when Much robbed Barry and shot but thankfully missed. Palace had got the point they came for and used time wasting tactics to see out time. We had one last attack and Kone was fed in but alas he could not control to clinch it and the whistle blew.
All in all a cracking night out, a thrilling game and some good performances from our lads. Stand-outs for me were Barkley who played his best game for a long time. Stones looked assured and classy, Coleman back to form and Barry immense yet again but for my man of the match it had to be Lukaku closely followed by Deulofeu. To be fair no one had a stinker which bodes well for the future as well as suggesting a fine team is being assembled. The club should try their best to keep hold of these lads and probably the best way to keep them is to recruit three top class players in the summer. Let us hope it is possible.
At this time of the season I take my first look in any depth at the league table and use my most unscientific way of forecasting finishing league position. It usually ends up with the position you’re in now plus or minus two places so tonight that tells me we are on to finish between 7th and 11th but with the way this season is going my reasoning may be somewhat off. I hope so.
Norwich next for another daft o’clock kick off and three points are a must but until the final whistle we can take nothing for granted.
UP THE BLUES
Any chance of a sub, Roberto?
It's that much fun watching a cup draw in the pub that I think I'll do it every time from now on should we, as expected, skip past Dagenham & Redbridge or Whitehalk, of course, next month at Goodison Park. The "uh's and arrr's" which accompany the draw always makes me laugh, the funniest moment being when we thought we'd drawn Brentford away though it was ball No.60 that came out, not 16. The draw went as about as well as it could have done.
After a few drinks we set on up to Goodison Park in an unseasonally mild night. Tom Cleverley was the only change from the team which drew at Bournemouth, replacing the stricken James McCarthy in midfield. Craig Pawson got the game under way with Everton attacking towards the Park End in the first half in what was a lively beginning to the game which saw Ross Barkley curl over and Connor Wickham denied by a point blank Tim Howard save.
It was a tight first half with little between the teams though Everton did eventually attain some authority on proceedings and were very unfortunate not to get ahead when Romelu Lukaku got his shot away but it came back off the inside of the post with some assuming it to be a goal. Arouna Kone also blazed well wide with a reasonable opportunity but at the break the scores were level.
Into the second half and though we again struck the woodwork when Ross Barkley's free kick was flicked onto his own crossbar, and the impressive Tom Cleverley was denied by a top drawer save by Wayne Hennersey; and though we were dominating possession and dictating play, we were always vulnerable on the counter-attack. When Phil Jagielka plays he uses his pace and reading of the game to help prevent opposing counter-attacks, though with him injured, we appear much more susceptible, and so it proved.
Crystal Palace had already been denied once by a good Tim Howard save, and this time were again thwarted when Jason Puncheon was denied by the American after our defence had halted Yohan Cabaye. From the resulting corner however, Scouser Scott Dann headed in to give the Eagles the lead against the run of play on 76 minutes.
Romelu Lukaku almost replied almost instantly when the ball sat quite nicely and he hit a half volley past Hennsey from the edge of the penalty area which thundered back off the crossbar and out of the radar of the onrushing Arouna Kone.
Undeterred, Everton pressed on and got the deserved equaliser when Deulofeu got by his man and this time put a low ball into the danger zone. I think Gareth Barry got the faintest of touches to it and Lukaku was on hand to score goal number 50 for Everton. Boy he sure got there fast. I hope he sticks around to score 50 more at least.
We were poised for what we hoped would be a cavalry charge but due to a combination of poor decision making, tired efforts at goal, good game-killing by the visitors and a little bit of poor officiating, we never really puffed and the goal looked less and less likely - the last action of the game being a Kone drive inside the penalty area which was blocked and out for what should have been a corner though Pawson elected to blow for full time despite overlooking some quite blatant Crystal Palace time wasting at a throw in. He probably only saved us more heartache mind you. Our corners are so bad it's almost laughable.
What isn't almost laughable is Roberto Martinez' continued insistence on not making substitutes when it's clear they are needed. I could painstakingly point out a number of instances throughout the season where a substitution may have made a difference, though in the last two league games it has been particularly apparent. With a talented Kevin Mirallas on the substitutes bench, why you wouldn't gamble with replacing Kone with he I really don't know. It was clear at Bournemouth, and would have been worthwhile this evening, at least for the last 10 minutes. That's not just me having a moan about Kone, but he is 32, and is still on the way back from a long term injury.
Kevin Mirallas, though not always my cup of tea either, at least offers a different dimension and might just turn a game for us given the opportunity. Even if Martinez doesn't want him, surely we'll get more money for him if he's involved and playing rather than left on the substitutes bench. And don't get me started about why we've signed Aaron Lennon!
I wait in hope that we freshen it up at Norwich, though won't hold my breath.
Howard: He was getting a bit of flack around me though I'm not really sure why. He was a bit indecisive at times but did make three very good saves also. 7
Galloway: Showing a lack of confidence in attack though didn't do badly otherwise. 6
Stones: A bit hit and miss. Some good defending, some bad. Some great passes, some poor. All part of the learning curve. 6
Funes Mori: The pick of the centre backs. 6
Coleman: Had a good game. Perhaps didn't get his cross in often enough but was tenacious throughout and always up in support of Deulofeu. Had a good game. Hope he can gallop on now. 7
Barry: Did OK but was looking pretty leggy by the end. At his age I think we really have to manage him better. He's a brilliant player for us Barry but needs to be in form. I worry we may burn him out if he continues to have to play every minute of every game. He may struggle through our busy Christmas and January spells. I don't have a solution to this though unless we can get Muhammed Besic back on the pitch. 6
Cleverley: Played well. I'll be interested to see where/if he'll feature when McCarthy comes back. Wonder if he'll be winged again? 7
Kone: Had a poor first half but grew into it a bit in the second. Was getting no joy down the left and, as Gaz pointed out, you wonder how any relationship from the left could flourish between he and Baines. He seemed to do better in-field when joining Lukaku in attack, but really should have made way for the fresher legs of Mirallas or perhaps even Naismith. 6
Deulofeu: Not a great first half but improved after the break and was a constant menace. Barry may perhaps have nicked his assist, I don't know, but that Deulofeu-Lukaku partnership is worth a lot of goals to us. 7
Barkley: My man of the match. His passing and use of the ball was intelligent and I even saw him chase a player back and put in a solid tackle at one point. He didn't get forward into the box as much as he has done in some other recent games but seldom wasted a pass. A very mature display - something we haven't been able to say often about Ross. 7
Lukaku: To make 50 goals in such a short space of time is impressive and he is easily on course to be our first 20 goal a season striker since Yakubu. He could have scored more today and was unlucky not to. Hope he can keep it up. His form and fitness is imperative to us this season. We would struggle for goals horribly if we lost Romelu for any sustained period of time. 7
Baines (for Galloway): I'm still frustrated this was the only substitution we made, and this not even really a tactical one. He's certainly struggling for match fitness Baines and it may be a few games yet before he's back starting games again. 5
Stubborn Palace Snatch Away Point
Seeing Everton's exciting young quartet, dubbed 'the fab four' by some, was enough to build up the excitement for our 'game in hand' at home to Alan Pardew's Crystal Palace, but with that also brought slight nerves as they were in form. On the back of a 5-1 hammering of Newcastle, Pardew's men rolled up into Merseyside one point ahead of Everton, knowing that any positive result would keep them above us.
My friend Jonathan picked me up and as we drove to the game we listened to the FA Cup 3rd round draw, a highlight in the footballing calendar. Delighted to avoid Manchester City, we were blessed with a home tie against Dagenham and Redbridge or Whitehawk (who?), while 5 matches included all-Premier league ties. "Great!" we thought, "now on to tonight."
While climbing up the steps to the Upper Bullens, the pre match conversation was of how a win would take us to 6th, with winnable fixtures to follow. Twitter informed us of how Lukaku was on 49 goals in 99 Everton appearances, so he was nailed on to score and we wondered how Brendan Galloway would cope being isolated against the torment that is Yannick Bolasie.
Z cars and atmosphere-sucking Premier League music out of the way, the game kicked off, with Connor Wickham starting as he meant to go on by testing Tim Howard within the first minute. Everton then had a ten minute spell, with Ross Barkley shooting wide after a clever one-two with Lukaku, when perhaps he had more time to take another touch into the penalty area.
The contrast of footballing styles was there for all to see at Goodison. Everton, in blue, trying to pass their way through a stubborn defence, with Kone and Deulofeu often guilty of trying one clever trick too many. While Palace, in white, hitting the ball long into the big and strong Connor Wickham, who proved a real handful for centre back pairing John Stones and Ramiro Funes Mori throughout the evening. Bolasie and the left-footed Jason Puncheon offered the counter attacking threat.
Palace had their spell in the first half, with the nuisance Wickham forcing Tim Howard into a fine save from a close range header. At the other end, Lukaku went a literal matter of inches away from his 50th Everton goal, smashing a low drive against the inside of the post from 20 yards out.
Half Time: Everton 0-0 Palace
The half time talk was of how important getting the first goal would be, which sounds obvious, but an Everton goal would force Palace to come out and we thought their defence, including Liverpool fan Scott Dann, looked very solid.
With the second half underway, Everton looked for the early breakthrough, forcing a succession of early corners, but, other than Barkley heading wide, we couldn't create a clear opening. In fact, it was Palace looking more dangerous on the breakaway, with Bolasie forcing Tim Howard into another good save.
But Deulofeu and his stepovers were growing into the game, and Everton were not piling on continuous pressure. A brilliant Barkley freekick was whipped in from the left hand side and Wickham inadvertently flicked it beyond the stranded Hennessey before seeing it crash off the underside of the bar and out.
Leighton Baines was introduced for Galloway as Everton continued to pile forward. Tom Cleverley, who was really growing into the game, smacked a thunderous volley towards the top corner. With Goodison ready to applaud, Hennessey somehow got his fingertips to it and turned it away. Everton were getting closer, we felt.
But Palace provided a reminder of their threat, having a claim for a penalty and forcing Tim Howard into yet another save after a swift counter attack. They had won a corner and it's floated delivery was met with the free head of Scott 'fucking' Dann, sending the few Palace fans that travelled north into delirium. An all too familiar feeling crept it's way around the ground as Everton trailed with little over 10 minutes remaining.
But Everton weren't ready to admit defeat just yet, as Romelu Lukaku, from outside the box, crashed a venomous volley towards goal and beyond the despairing dive of the Palace keeper, but not beyond the cruel woodwork, which had thwarted Everton for the third time. Just what did we have to do to score?
With the crowd behind them, the pressure from the Everton players did not subside, and it did not take long to equalise. A low cross from Gerard Deulofeu was converted by Lukaku from close range. 1-1. Lukaku now had his 14th goal of the season, with an incredible 8 of those assisted by Deulofeu.
Everton then huffed and puffed as both sides had chances to win it blocked by some great defending, but the referee blew his whistle to bring an end to an exciting Premier League encounter.
Full Time: Everton 1-1 Palace
A feeling of frustration and two dropped points was shared as we made our way back to the car, but credit to Palace who look set up to do very well this season and they probably deserved a point for how well they defended. Lukaku scoring 50 goals in 100 appearances for Everton is a great goals return and long may it continue, but as he eluded to in his interview after the game, these are the games Everton need to be winning if we want to challenge for the Champions League places.
Next up: Norwich (A)
Everton return to Premier League action for the televised Monday match with the incentive of sitting in sixth place by the end of the evening if they can overcome Crystal Palace at Goodison Park.
Results over the weekend have pushed the Toffees out of the top half but the congested nature of the table means that a victory over Alan Pardew's unpredictable Eagles would lift them up five places and back onto the coat tails of the pack of clubs contesting the top four.
The continued fluctuation of fortunes for the top flight's supposed elite clubs has left both the race for the Champions League and the Premier League title itself wide open and there is opportunity for a club like Everton that can put a run of wins together. The challenge, as ever, is to grind out three points week in, week out and the Blues' last League outing was a harsh lesson that there is no room for complacency or scope for easing off the accelerator during matches.
Roberto Martinez will be hoping, however, that the comfortable Capital One Cup victory at Middlesbrough last Tuesday has banished the disappointment of the 3-3 draw at Bournemouth in which his charges twice squandered a precious lead and that they rack up a third successive home win.
Continuity in the side seems to have been an important under-pinning of the Blues' recent run of good results and that was reflected in Martinez's line-up for the trip to Boro. Unlike in previous rounds where he made extensive changes, the manager made just three alterations, one of them forced upon him by injury to James McCarthy.
Though he wasn't missed quite as much against Championship opposition in the cup, the Irish midfield linchpin's absence from the field for the last half hour of the game at Bournemouth has been highlighted as being a significant factor in Everton's defensive vulnerabilities that contributed to them throwing those two points away.
Coincidentally, it was the surprise omission of McCarthy from this fixture two seasons ago that was seen as being key in Palace effectively ending Everton's push for Champions League qualification in Martinez's first year in charge. The 25-year-old was in the line-up for the same game last season – one which also ended in a frustrating 3-2 defeat – but he was powerless to prevent individual errors from sinking the Blues on that occasion.
Coming into this Monday's game, McCarthy is Everton's biggest injury doubt and he will undergo a late fitness on the hip injury that forced him off after an hour of the draw at Vitality Stadium 9 days ago and kept him out of the cup tie at the Riverside. In both instances his replacement was Tom Cleverley and the former Manchester United and Aston Villa midfielder would be a good bet to continue in the role should McCarthy not make it.
At the back, Leighton Baines continued his patient return from long-term injury with a substitute's appearance against Boro and he is likely to be named on the bench again for this one given Martinez's reluctance to throw him back into action too soon. Though Brendan Galloway lacks Baines's natural instincts as a fullback, the 19-year-old continues to be an impressive deputy for the England international and he will offer height and physical presence against what is always a robust Palace outfit. Tim Howard will almost certainly return in goal.
Further forward, Arouna Kone is expected to come back into the side at Leon Osman's expense to resume his increasingly fruitful partnership with Romelu Lukaku and with Gerard Deulofeu on the right flank and his Ivorian foil alongside him, the Belgian will be hopeful of equalling Peter Beardsley's feat of scoring in six consecutive games for Everton in the Premier League era. Lukaku is joint-second-top scorer in the League coming into this fixture, four behind Jamie Vardy.
Palace, meanwhile, will be forced to do without one of their wing threats after Wilfried Zaha triggered a one-game ban for picking up five yellow cards for the season, while Bakary Sako is ruled out with a hamstring injury.
Even without those two players, they will be no easy proposition, particularly given how successful they have been at times on their travels so far this season where they have beaten Chelsea, Watford and, most recently, Liverpool. But, as their last five games in all competitions have shown, they have also been inconsistent, losing heavily to Manchester City in the League Cup and falling to Sunderland at home before hammering porous Newcastle 5-1 in their last game.
For Martinez and Everton, the equation should be a simple one: perform with the attacking freedom and invention that has characterised their last few games – the last five matches have yielded 16 goals – and retain the defensive solidity they exhibited against Aston Villa and Middlesbrough and they should win.
Kick off: 8pm
Referee: Craig Pawson
Predicted line-up: Howard, Coleman, Stones, Funes Mori, Galloway, Barry, Cleverley, Deulofeu, Barkley, Kone, Lukaku