Everton stumble to shock Palace defeat

, 16 April, 0comments  |  Jump to most recent
Everton 2 - 3 Crystal Palace

Everton's top-four hopes took a hammer blow under the Goodison lights this evening as Crystal Palace inflicted on them only their second home defeat of the season.

A first-half goal by Jason Puncheon and then another early in the second period from Scott Dann stunned the Blues who needed a win or a draw to reclaim fourth place from Arsenal.

Half-time substitute Steven Naismith looked to have sparked a badly-needed fight-back with an hour played when he prodded in from close range but a killer third goal from Cameron Jerome left Roberto Martinez's side with too much to do in the final 17 minutes, even though Kevin Mirallas gave them hope with a second goal late on.

Everton, starting with an attacking line-up boasting Gerard Deulofeu, Mirallas and Aiden McGeady, started well with Gareth Barry heading over from an early corner and McGeady letting fly with a powerful drive that also narrowly cleared the crossbar.

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For all their dominance, though, the Blues were struggling to carve out clear-cut chances and Palace showed them the way midway through the first half when Yannick Bolasie skinned Leighton Baines down the right channel. His low cross was pushed out by Tim Howard but the visitors had bodies on hand in the box and Puncheon turned Marouane Chamakh's knock-on inside the far post to make it 1-0.

Everton tried to rally in response for the remainder of the half, Mirallas whipping a shot inches over from the angle, McGeady curling over from 25 yards and Romelu Lukaku forcing a smart save from Julian Speroni at the near post but it was Palace and Bolasie who went closer to scoring again, the Congolese international hammering a shot off the post 10 minutes before half time.

In the final action of the first half, another corner fom the right eluded the Blue jerseys in the box but McGeady clipped a cross onto the roof of the net.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Martinez elected to make a change at half time, withdrawing Deulofeu and introducing Naismith but things would get worse within three minutes of the start of the second half. Howard pushed Joe Ledley's shot behind for a corner but Dann was allowed a free header from the resulting set-piece to rise and power home a downward header to double Palace's lead.

The Blues were temporarily stunned but McGeady raked a shot agonisingly wide from distance before being replaced by James McCarthy, rested due to a slight muscle strain, in a double change that also saw Barry make way for the more offensively-minded Leon Osman.

It was Martinez's first substitution who brought Everton back into the game with an hour gone, though. Persistence from Mirallas on the right ended with the Belgian putting in a cross to the back post that Baines headed back across goal for Naismith to score.

And the Baines-Mirallas combination came very close to levelling the match in what would perhaps prove in the final reckoning to be the first of two crucial moments. The left back's deep cross found the Belgian arriving late at the far post but he could only sky it over first time and when Speroni tipped Osman's terrific shot acrobatically over the bar, it looked as though it wasn't going to be Everton's day.

Two minutes later, the Blues were caught cold again when Jerome profited from good work by Puncheon and a slight slip by John Stones to plant a right-foot shot beyond Howard into the Park End goal to make it 3-1 and leave the home side with a mountain to climb.

It was Speroni who denied Barkley the chance of halving the deficit with 10 minutes left, the Argentine diverting the 20 year-old's shot inches past the post with his foot, but Mirallas did plunder a second goal for Everton in the 86th minute when he seized on Barkley's deflected pass to round the 'keeper and slot home.

Four minutes of regulation time and another six for stoppages would not prove to be enough for the Blues but Mirallas had a gilt-edged chance to tie things up four minutes into added time when Barkley cleverly scooped the ball over the massed wall of yellow shirts but the forward failed to make contact and the chance evaporated, perhaps taking Everton's Champions League hopes with it.

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