With the help of his star goalkeeper, Marco Silva engineered victory when it seemed as though Everton were destined to be shut out by a typically obstinate Crystal Palace
Sometimes you just need to find a way of winning when you’ve been in the driving seat but things just aren’t clicking where they need to be. It can be the measure of good teams and good managers and today Everton and Marco Silva engineered victory when it seemed as though they were destined to be shut out by a typically obstinate Crystal Palace side.
Last season’s 3-1 win over the Eagles at Goodison Park was an unusually routine affair; recent years have been marked by frustrating encounters against Palace, starting with that crushing 3-2 defeat in Roberto Martinez’s first season that effectively ended the Blues’ Champions League hopes. It was the same scoreline the following campaign despite Romelu Lukaku getting the home side off to an early lead and the following two seasons featured annoying 1-1 draws.
Another point looked to be on the cards this afternoon until all three of Silva’s substitutes weighed in to win this game with a thrilling conclusion. Fortune favoured the brave, indeed, because on an afternoon when little came off for Bernard, Theo Walcott had one of those inexplicable bouts of ineffectiveness and Richarlison was often guilty of over-elaboration or a stubborn refusal to give up the ball, it needed something different to pick the lock to the visitors’ defence.
Pleasingly, both for the individuals concerned and what it says about the depth of options open to Silva now that his injury problems have eased, the heroes of the 11th hour were three players who have a fair bit to prove under the new regime. Ademola Lookman supplied the deft cross for Dominic Calvert-Lewin to steer a header past Wayne Hennessey and Cenk Tosun, forced back to the bench for the last two games, rapped home the killer second goal, all within the space of less than two of the dying minutes.
Of course, it’s unlikely that we Blues would be toasting a third Premier League win in succession were it not for Jordan Pickford. The England international pulled off a brilliant stretching save in the first half to deny Cheikhou Kouyaté as Everton almost buckled from another set-piece and then made a superb stop with his trailing foot to prevent Luka Milivojevic from putting Palace ahead from the spot with an hour gone.
The penalty save proved to be the turning point of what was at times a scrappy and testy affair, punctured incessantly by referee Anthony Taylor’s whistle. It was also the moment that ignited a Goodison atmosphere that had become patient but tempered by some anxiety that Everton weren’t going to find a way through on this particular afternoon.
After all, in addition to Palace’s reputation as playing the spoiler at Goodison and the recent stumbles against Huddersfield and West Ham, Everton had a miserable record in Sunday televised matches coming into the weekend and there was the rather curious statistic that the last time they had won without Tom Davies playing was December 2016… and the 20-year-old midfielder wasn’t in today’s starting XI.
That was because André Gomes was handed his long-awaited home debut, 10 long weeks after he signed on a season-long loan from Barcelona. Finally deemed fit after picking up a hamstring injury on the Spanish club’s pre-season tour in America, the Portuguese international lined up alongside Idrissa Gueye in a partnership that immediately looks like it will be the way forward for Silva this season if both can stay healthy.
Despite not having played competitive football for months or ever featured in the Premier League before, Gomes slotted into midfield like he had been playing there for years. A little cautious at times, perhaps — understandably so against difficult opposition who don’t give you time on the ball — but the 25-year-old epitomised tidiness and composure, always looking to move the ball and the team forward when possible while also mopping up in a defensive capacity when needed.
Again, a fit-again Gomes offers the manager options, just as he has a few in attacking areas, particularly when things just aren’t happening for certain players. Bernard was electric at Leicester last time out but in this, his second Premier League start, he struggled to find his feet… quite literally at times as he slipped on a couple of occasions on the wet Goodison Park turf.
That’s not to say he wasn’t without threat but in his better moments he probably should have taken a shot just three minutes but elected to defer to a team-mate and laid it square, while in the second half he got clear down the left flank but didn’t centre it for Walcott who was storming in on goal begging for the pass.
His compatriot, Richarlison, meanwhile, didn’t have the same goalscoring impact as he did at the King Power Stadium but he played an important role as the focus of the attack, even if he still needs to learn when to bring others into the game on a more consistent basis rather than run into blind alleys when team-mates are in support. A 13th minute opportunity created by Gueye smartly robbing Milivojevic in the centre circle was a case in point — Richarlison tried to go it alone and was closed out by a clutch of yellow shirts.
He would go close at the end of the first half with a header off a corner, however, which, when added to Seamus Coleman’s rising drive in the 10th minute and a Gylfi Sigurdsson shot that narrowly missed just before half time, was one of few clear chances that Everton created in a first half that ended up being a lot more even than they would have liked.
Indeed, Palace grew into the contest as the first period wore on and, were it not for James Tomkins planting a free header wide from Andros Townsend’s flighted cross and Pickford’s efforts to push Milivojevic’s free kick wide and then deny Kouyate so expertly from the resulting corner, Roy Hodgson’s men might have gone into the break a goal up.
Just as they were against Fulham in their last home fixture, Everton were better in the second half. Unlike the win over the Cottagers, it just took longer to make the breakthrough, and this time they needed some help from Pickford to keep things level at 0-0.
Wilfried Zaha, passed fit despite pulling out of Ivory Coast’s second Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in the week because of a groin strain, had been a constant thorn in Everton’s side and the home crowd had already tired of his endless moaning at the officials by the time he went down in the area under the attentions of Coleman with an hour played.
Citing contact made by the Irishman on the Palace winger’s leg as he cut the ball back to go around him, referee Taylor pointed to the spot and Goodison held its collective breath while Pickford analysed Milivojevic’s run-up. The ‘keeper dived to his left but was alive to the possibility that the Australian international might go down the middle and he made an excellent save with his foot, diverting the ball up and to the side where Michael Keane headed safely behind.
That spurred Everton into action and Walcott was handed a great chance to break the deadlock at the other end when Gomes fed Sigurdsson with a neat pass and the Icelander split the defence with an equally well-weighted ball. Walcott shot too close to Hennessey, however, and the ‘keeper saved with his legs.
Gomes himself saw a low curling shot skid past the post and Sigurdsson had another effort deflected behind but, despite a succession of corners, those few chances, and a clear pull on Richarlison in the Palace area that went unpunished, the scoreline remained at 0-0.
Sensing the need for an impactful last throw of the dice, Silva, having already replaced Bernard with Tosun, made a double change with 10 minutes to go, taking Walcott and Gomes off and throwing on Calvert-Lewin and Lookman. And, seven minutes later, the latter two combined to put Everton ahead.
Keane, who was excellent throughout, had stayed up following a free kick on the right, rose to nod forward a high clearance, Richarlison laid it off to Lookman and the young winger paused before clipping a beautiful ball to the six-yard box where Calvert-Lewin had time to pick his spot and head home to the delight of the Goodison faithful.
Palace went in search of an immediate equaliser and Hodgson was readying Conor Wickham to come on to bolster that effort when the Eagles were caught on the break-away. Sigurdsson helped deflect Geoff Schlupp’s attempted pad outside the Blues’ box, Keane swept the ball into the opposition half and Tosun took off past Mamadou Sakho towards goal. Two touches later, he slammed it through Hennessey’s legs before sprinting away to knee-slide in celebration of his second goal of the season.
That set the seal on what was a massive finale in the context of a home win that takes on extra importance given the upcoming run of away games against “big six” teams. The performance was a bit of a grind at times, not helped by the stop-start nature of the contest, particularly in the first half, and the two starting wingers and Coleman in particular might look back on an erratic day at the office but it’s important to believe that the sharpness and potency will come from greater familiarity and with the progression of the season.
Gomes’s Premier League baptism was a hugely encouraging one, as were the performances of Keane, Kurt Zouma and Lucas Digne at the back as they restricted Palace to few real chances of note from open play.
Three wins in succession and a move back into the top ten has Silva’s side well placed as they prepare for the trip to Old Trafford next weekend. It’s difficult matches like those that will show just how far Everton could conceivably go this season so early in the new manager’s tenure but the future looks very bright.