A European hangover offered a convenient excuse for Evertonâ€™s second home defeat by Crystal Palace in five months but Roberto MartÃnez did not go there for good reason. It was nonsense. His team remain winless in the league at Goodison Park, and officially in the realm of a bad start to the season, because of another display strewn with basic defensive errors. A side with Evertonâ€™s ambition cannot afford such repetition.
Palace triumphed 3-2 at Goodison in April during their escapology feat under Tony Pulis and repeated the act to give Neil Warnock his first win since returning to the club as manager. â€œA massive relief,â€ said Warnock, albeit he claimed a victory based on industry and resilient defending was richly deserved. It was an outcome few would have predicted as Everton dominated the opening 25 minutes with the confidence and fluency that characterised Thursdayâ€™s Europa League win over Wolfsburg.
However, with Tim Howard gifting Palace their opening two goals in a match to forget for the goalkeeper, Leon Osman caught dawdling for the visitorsâ€™ third and his defence creaking under the slightest pressure, MartÃnez was left with familiar torment. â€œIt is an incredible situation when you look at how solid we were against West Bromwich Albion last weekend and Wolfsburg,â€ said the Everton manager. â€œThere is something spooky about the statistics. Three shots on target, three individual errors, three goals. It was a strange game. We were fantastic for the first 20 minutes and looked like we had seven days to prepare, not just a few.â€
Romelu Lukaku swept the home side ahead as James McCarthy, Evertonâ€™s best player, and Osman combined to send the Belgium international clear of the Palace defence for his second goal of the season. It should have been the foundation for an Everton side showing four changes to the Europa League game to flourish but, if anything, the opening proved too comfortable for MartÃnezâ€™s team. Despite the luxury of an early goal and unthreatening opposition, Everton could not seize the opportunity to take control of the contest when it presented itself and paid with a second defeat in three home league games.
Everton enjoyed 76% possession in the first half, comfortably contained the occasional counterattack from Yannick Bolasie and Jason Puncheon and almost doubled their advantage when Osman shot straight at JuliÃ¡n Speroni from Christian Atsuâ€™s lay-off. Seconds later, a straightforward chance became a turning point when Palace were gifted an equaliser and valuable momentum. â€œWe needed to kill the game in that period,â€MartÃnez said. â€œIf Leon scores the game is over.â€
There appeared little danger when Bolasieâ€™s flick-on landed between three Everton players inside the penalty area but, with John Stones waiting for Howard to collect and the goalkeeper hesitating, James McArthur was able to intercept. Palaceâ€™s record signing touched the ball a fraction before Howard and the referee Michael Oliver had no hesitation pointing to the spot when the USA international sent him sprawling. The captain Mile Jedinak sent an unstoppable spot-kick into the top corner.
Palace were unfortunate not to take the lead before half-time when Bolasieâ€™s long-range effort deflected off Stones and struck the crossbar with Howard stranded. It arrived shortly after the restart with another error from the Everton goalkeeper, so commanding against Wolfsburg but part of a creaking defence against Palace. The source was simple, a deep cross to the back post by the former Liverpool defender Martin Kelly, yet Howard was unable to claim under pressure from Fraizer Campbell and the ball struck the striker unwittingly on the back of the head and looped over Phil Jagielka on the line.
MartÃnez replaced Stones and the ineffective Atsu with Kevin Mirallas and Steven Naismith in an attempt to inject some urgency and quality into the Everton attack but defensive errors continued to undermine their performance. With 20 minutes remaining Puncheon dispossessed Osman outside the home area and released Bolasie inside the area for an emphatic low finish into Howardâ€™s far corner.
Palaceâ€™s first league win of the season appeared assured but they had to survive a nervous finale when Scott Dann upended McCarthy in the box with eight minutes remaining and Leighton Baines converted the penalty. Lukaku almost levelled from a Mirallas cross in the final moments but Palaceâ€™s tireless defenders merited the reprieve.
â€œWe deserved to win it,â€ Warnock said. â€œWe gave Everton too much respect at the start but I felt at half-time that if we were more confident on the ball we had the ammunition to hurt them on the counterattack. Every fixture in the Premier League is winnable.â€ – The Guardian