Crystal Palace 0 - 1 Everton
There's something of an unmistakable buzz about waiting at a deserted bus stop at 6.30am when you're on route to see Everton away. It's also nice to get to Lime Street station and see plenty of your Everton family making the journey, and so it was. Plenty of Evertonians on the 7.44am to London Euston.
As I've some friends and family in London I tend to coincide a London game with a visit and so first had to drop my bag off at my mates flat. Jim and Hannah used to live more centrally in the capital but have now selfishly moved to Walthamstow village which is at the end of the Victoria line. After a quick catch up with the guys I was headed back the way I came, before changing at Highbury & Islington to take the lengthy overground journey to Norwood Junction.
My adventure didn't end there. I had to meet a mate by the ground to collect a couple of tickets before finally catching up with Ian and Lesley in the pleasant Pawsons Arms. That's a cracking little away pub by the way.I never used to really have an opinion on Crystal Palace but having now done a few away trips to Selhurst Park I've gotten to think quite fondly of the club. The fans are a good bunch and always seem friendly and helpful, even the match day stewards make a point of saying hello.
Anyhow, at the pub I thought we'd hit lucky seeing Swansea City holding Liverpool to 0-0 at the break. Little did I know of course of the delight that was forthcoming. We had to be respectful with our celebrating of course given Swansea City are relegation rivals of Crystal Palace. At 2-2 we were convinced we would witness a Liverpool comeback of which we would never hear the end of. Similarly so at 3-2 in fact. What a result for Swansea City. Nobody saw that one coming.
During this we got chatting to a lovely couple who'd also travelled up for the game. I love that special bond you can somehow extend to Evertonians at away games. Complete strangers you can have a chat too as if you go back years. Many you never see again. The lady had an incredibly encyclopediac knowledge of all things Everton...and all things bad about Liverpool! Whether it be detailed information on the charity work overseen by Duncan Ferguson over the years, or details of the time Steven Gerrard beat up the DJ of a club, whatever it was she seemed to know everything. It was quite remarkable.
We were having a blast in the pub and left it a tiny bit too late to walk up the hill to Selhurst Park but we made it just in time for kick off, Everton unchanged and looking mighty smart in yellow and blue. I'm a bit of an obsessive when it comes to bringing my shades with me. If there's even a hint that we might get some sun I like to have them ready. It was with great annoyance then that I neglected to bring them along this time. I didn't even forget I just figured I wouldn't need them. This turned out to be very misguided of course as we had to use our hands as caps throughout the first half. We spent the first half complaining about the brightness of the sun, and the second half missing the sun as it certainly got very cold when it was gone.
Loic Remy headed against the crossbar fairly early in the game for the Eagles but we otherwise kept Crystal Palace at arms length throughout the half, with Ramiro Funes Mori particularly impressive at the back. Going forward we did very well and I can genuinely say that I always felt the goal would come. Ross Barkley was exceptional in the first half. He controlled the game and having our young inspiration Tom Davies alongside him has lifted his game no end.
We threatened several times throughout the first half and on another day could have been a couple ahead at the break. Wayne Hennessey was in fine form between the sticks and made some great saves in the first half, the most impressive perhaps coming from a powerfully struck Ramiro Funes Mori drive from a corner kick.
For all our dominance you worried a little with some of the set-piece opportunities we afforded Crystal Palace but as we chatted to more great Toffee strangers during our half time tipple we were all in confident mood we could get the three points.In the second half didn't quite showcase the glut of chances which came our way in the first and we needed to be patient for the opportunity to come. We created a few half chances which didn't quite go in but we were in control of the game. All the play was with us.
The maddeningly inconsistent Kevin Mirallas was replaced by Ademola Lookman, and Gareth Barry by Morgan Schneiderlin as we searched for the three points. The opportunity came with the game closing out. With just three minutes on the clock Jeffrey Schlupp went down with cramp off the field by our goal and then rolled back on it to try to get the game stopped. That's one of my pet hates and though Anthony Taylor gave us little throughout, I have to give him credit for letting play go on. It wasn't that he just didn't notice either. He had a look and evaluated that this was not a head injury, nor was the player in critical need of treatment, and the incident literally couldn't have been further away from the play. Indeed it would actually have been folly to halt play to give the player treatment...for cramp. CRAMP!!!
Credit to our boys for being professional whist Crystal Palace lost focus and it was Tom Davies who created the opportunity for Seamus Coleman who had charged upfield. Our Irish gem composed himself before thrashing the ball past Wayne Hennessey. We went berserk. What a feeling.
We still had a classic Big Sam onslaught to defend, for another eight minutes all in all, but the boys did well, Joel Robles in particular made one very key save and bravely came and caught everything. EVERYTHING! He's grown on me that lad. If he could polish his distribution he really could become a top goalkeeper for us.
So three wins on the bounce in the Premier League and with the gap between us and Manchester United now down to just five points we find ourselves very much looking up rather than down. Sure, our meek surrender in the FA cup still rankles but it's enjoyable being a blue at the moment. Things feel really positive. Let's just keep it going.
Robles: Amidst a run of games when Tim Howard was injured in January 2015, Roberto Martinez reserved special praise for Joel Robles for his stellar display in goal at Crystal Palace. He was, perhaps unfairly, dropped again as soon as Tim Howard was fit again but though unconvinced, you could see a glimmer of potential in Joel. Two years on and back at Selhurst Park and the lad finally seems to have made it. If ever there was a game when he's come of age it was this one. He was magnificent. He's had to do it the hard way, playing in a struggling team with a Roberto Martinez defence last season, but I believe our goalkeeping problems could well now be solved. Here's your chance Joel. Take it, quite literally, with both hands. My man of the match. 9
Baines: Did well. He's playing with consistency and seems to be back to somewhere approaching his best. 7
Funes Mori: If you're anything like me, if there's a player you're not keen on, you ready scrutinize his weaknesses. Ste has done this over the years with Darron Gibson, and I've certainly done it a lot with Ramiro Funes Mori. Well Ramiro, if you can defend and play as well as you did at Selhurst Park yesterday I'll have no cause to complain. He was excellent, almost man of the match in fact. His best appearance yet for Everton in my opinion. Well done. Build on it. 8
Williams: Seems to be at his best when a) he is in a back three, and, b) when he doesn't play alongside Phil Jagielka. Was quite comfortable throughout. 7
Holgate: Shows great composure for a young lad. He's got a bright future ahead of him. It's a good thing that's going to be with us. 7
Coleman: Was a constant menace to Scott Dann and Jason Puncheon throughout and showed great determination to get up in support for the goal. What a finish as well. £60,000. Surely the bargain of all bargains. 8
Barry: Did well. Replaced for fresher legs but his quality, experience and professionalism suggests he has a lot to give in a blue shirt yet. 7
Davies and Barkley: Isn't it great to see two young local products of our youth system come through and perform so well. The two of them were excellent and could well be the heartbeat of our midfield for many, many years to come. Well done to both of them, and a massive congratulations to Kevin Sheedy, David Unsworth and, perhaps more formatively, Ray Hall. They must be so proud. Both get an 8.
Mirallas: It wasn't for lack of trying but he wasn't quite on his game today. 6
Lukaku: He worked quite hard and did a good job of occupying their centre backs. You might not always see the little things but he did quite a selfless job for the team I thought. 7
Schneiderlin (for Barry): Did ok. Still finding his feet. 6
Lookman (for Mirallas): Almost instantly he got involved, took a few players on and sprayed a lovely ball across the pitch. That tells me straight away that he's got the talent. He needs looking after and protecting, but my initial prognosis would be that we have another very talented young player on our hands there. Well done Everton for securing him. 6
Jagielka (for Barkley): Brought on to batten down the hatches during Big Sam's onslaught. At his age Phil Jagielka will probably think he should be playing. We were saying at half time that with opportunities limited, it might be as well to let him go and help David Moyes out at Sunderland and promote Tyias Browning or Matthew Pennington instead. 6
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