Relatively high-flying Crystal Palace were the visitors to Goodison Park on Monday. Everton, off the back of a very professional win at the BT Cellnet stadium in the league cup, were looking to banish the memory of the manner of the disappointing 3-3 draw with Bournemouth in our last league game. Being the Monday night game, after some of the sides around us continued to splutter their way through the weekend fixtures, Everton entered the game knowing there were six points to play for: Palace on Monday, and Norwich on the early kick off on Saturday, before any other side had a chance to play again. There was a real opportunity to put some pressure on.

Still, Palace are having a nice season so far themselves, and their away form in particular has been excellent (winning four of their opening six), so how would the sides line up?

01

Everton kept the same team that managed to snatch a draw away from the jaws of victory twice in stoppage time at Bournemouth, and Palace were without Wilf Zaha thanks to a suspension, pushing top scorer (and top snide) Yohan Cabaye further up the pitch. Immediately it’s clear to see how narrow Palace were, despite having Jason Puncheon and Yannick Bolasie starting the game. Tom Cleverley came in for James McCarthy and did a good job alongside Gareth Barry in the heart of the Everton midfield.

Early on, and Funes Mori was well positioned to deal with a Deulofeu-esque fizzing front post cross from Bolasie out wide. Bolasie always has a field day on Merseyside, doesn’t he? But it was Everton who were controlling the ball. Palace, rightfully scared of the pace of Lukaku (and no doubt the ability of Deulofeu to find his runs) up against Scott Dann and Damien Delaney at centre half, were sat in a very deep defensive line when Everton were in possession, but the same didn’t quite go for the midfield…

02

Meaning there was plenty of space between the lines for supporting players to work in. This meant enough room for some nice one-two interplay between Lukaku and others, and Everton were looking threatening. Runners from deep, Seamus Coleman overlapping down the right, and the constant threat of Deulofeu meant Everton started very brightly indeed.

With just over five minutes gone, and the first clear opportunity of the game came to the feet of Ross Barkley. A neat one two between Barkley and Lukaku sent the England man free, Yannick Bolasie neglecting his defensive duties and failing to follow Barkley for the return pass…

03

With space ahead of him, Barkley chose to shoot first time, but started the ball off too wide, whistling past the far post with Wayne Hennessey left helpless. It would have been a scorcher, but was it the right decision given the space he had to work?

Everton’s threat on the break, and the reason Palace were so keen to sit deep when Everton had the ball was clear soon after…

04

Funes Mori has managed to head away a Bolasie cross from the Palace left, and Ross Barkley has gotten to the second ball. From inside his own area he threads a perfect pass up to Lukaku in midfield…

05

Who touches the ball into the run of Gerard Deulofeu in support. With Damien Delaney choosing to get so tight to Lukaku in an attempt to prevent the Belgian laying the ball off, he’s left himself badly exposed: with no hope of catching Lukaku on a run for goal, the speed of Everton’s break has left Palace extremely vulnerable…

06

Fortunately for Palace, Deulofeu takes an uncharacteristically heavy touch, and Scott Dann manages to clear the danger. There would’ve been no stopping Lukaku had Deulofeu managed to hold onto the ball for a little longer and work the opportunity to play him in on goal. Less than ten minutes in, and two good chances have already come and gone for the toffees.

Fifteen minutes in, and it was Palace’s turn to look threatening. Crosses from out wide weren’t being prevented- as so often been the case of late, causing Gwladys hearts to flutter once or twice. Mori headed one behind for a corner, and Jason Puncheon delivered a perfect ball in for Mile Jedinak who somehow managed to avoid proper contact from close in…

07

Another heart in mouth moment from a set piece. As the ball ran out wide, Bolasie scampered to keep it in, joined by Mori who challenged him on the touchline. As Everton gathered themselves in the middle, Stones and Galloway drifted into the same area (although Galloway marked someone). As Bolasie jinked past Mori, Connor Wickham was allowed to drift unmarked into space… Not clever movement- not a dart out then in… Just allowed to drift between a couple of Everton players: nobody picked him up, nobody took responsibility for him- nobody was organising us again.

08

Wickham- who was having a decent time of leading the Palace line up to this point, glanced his header toward goal, and brought a good close save from Howard, well positioned for the header. Lax defending from Everton again.

Twenty minutes in, and the closest Everton have come to opening the scoring. A pair of exchanged passes between Lukaku and Barkley- courtesy of a lucky bounce off a Palace defender and a lovely turn from Lukaku, gave the Belgian a sight of goal from just outside the area. He wrapped his foot round the ball and struck a near perfect effort on goal, only to see it rebound off the inside of Hennessey’s post. So unlucky for Lukaku, in his hundredth start for Everton, looking for his fiftieth goal…

09

Moments later and Everton had sight of goal again, this time through Arouna Kone. Excellent, patient build up play saw the ball moved from left to right, into the feet of the advanced Seamus Coleman…

10

Coleman plays a ball into Lukaku who sees the run of Kone in behind him- sumptuously flicking the ball into the Ivorian who took a touch and moved into the box…

11

Unfortunately for Everton, Kone finished with all the conviction of a man who hasn’t scored in over a month now. There’s a theme developing to this point- one that runs throughout the season in fact: looking good going forward, indecision at the back, and a lack of know-how… A sense of ruthlessness missing: Monday night was no different.

We were playing well- moving the ball about nicely, dictating the tempo against a side coming off the back of a 5-1 thumping of Newcastle. There was, however, more than a whiff of Arsenal at their irritating best at times. Nice, intricate football was tending to stop close to goal. A combination of two good Palace centre halves, and Everton trying to play a touch too much in crowded spaces meant that if you could aim one criticism at Everton’s attacking play in the first half- it was a little naïve at times: thinking we could pass our way into the perfect situation to score, and when we had created decent chances to this point and we did shoot- we were wasteful- Barkley and Kone not working the ‘keeper, only Lukaku was genuinely unlucky to not open the scoring for us.

The half wore to a fairly anticlimactic end. Deulofeu was more involved than he had been previously, but a combination of wayward crossing and nobody gambling on his good, early front post crosses meant his impact was yet to be really felt. Palace were sat in deep looking to counter, and Everton were playing well, but yet to break down the South Londoners defence.

Into the second half, and Everton were continuing to threaten on the break, but still just as wasteful. Kone did well to win possession dep in Everton territory after a Palace corner was half cleared. He broke and swapped passes with Lukaku…

12

Kone didn’t quite have the quality to find Barkley inside of him in support, and the pass was intercepted. Another Everton break that could’ve (should’ve?) made for a one on one opportunity through on goal that has broken down prematurely. Kone did manage to clip a nice ball into Barkley when it rebounded to him, only for Barkley’s header to go agonisingly just wide of Hennessey’s front post, but the real chance had already come and gone moments earlier.

Ten minutes in, and Palace force Tim Howard into a good save from Yannick Bolasie. The game was beginning to look like a cup tie. Everton were pressing for a goal, and Palace were looking busy on the break. As one side’s counter failed, the other would look to break themselves. Seamus Coleman carried the ball forward, and played it into the path of Lukaku. Good work from Jedinak and McArthur crowding the space meant they won the ball back. The ball ended up at the feet of Bolasie, midway inside his own half and he broke…

13

With Seamus Coleman down the opposite end of the pitch, Palace have a decent chance, and Bolasie is left one on one with John Stones who shows him outside onto his weaker left…

14

Bolasie hits a strong left footed shot low, saved at the left boot of Tim Howard- excellently positioned again to keep things level. Good work from Everton’s last line of defence.

It was end to end stuff at times, a very open game. Everton were beginning to look toward Deulofeu more and more as they sought a moment of inspiration….

15

After putting in another driven front post cross here, Deulofeu was visibly frustrated that with four players up in the box, nobody was taking a gamble and making a front post run as he worked space to get in a cross. Not for the first time in the evening- a good cross with decent pace into a threatening area goes unrewarded. Nobody else on Deulofeu’s wavelength to this point.

With an hour gone, Everton went close again: hitting the woodwork for the second time in the evening. A superb Ross Barkley free kick from out wide was glanced by Connor Wickham at the front post, clipping the underside of the bar and somehow staying out. Now you are thinking it’s not going to be our night at this point. Brendan Galloway made way for the returning Leighton Baines as Roberto Martinez sought to give us another dimension down the left. Deulofeu was threatening down the right, but as Kone drifted inside, we weren’t putting enough pressure on down the left. Not a knock on Galloway who has done more than could’ve been realistically asked of him in Baines’ absence, but when faced with a side like this…

16

Playing compact and narrow, looking to spring the break should Everton leave the back door open when playing for the win as the game went on, Baines would offer more quality with the ball at his feet from out wide.

It was looking like it was going to take something special, and it almost came at the feet of Tom Cleverley. As the ball spat up in his direction on the edge of the box, it was too tempting not to hit. He thundered a volley at goal and Wayne Hennessey produced a contender for save of the season, tipping the ball away for a corner…

17

Now you’re really thinking ‘it just isn’t going to be our night’. Cleverley was playing very well: finding pockets of space in attack- he was a magnet to second balls coming his way as he kept moves going. He had a second drive at goal shortly after his first, but fired tamely at the ‘keeper after Deulofeu had rolled the ball into his path on the edge of the area. In fairness to Cleverley- the ball was a touch too far ahead of him, and Palace closed him down quickly (as they had done all night with anything narrow and close to their goal). It was one way traffic now though at this point, and Everton were beginning to turn the screw.

Of course, Palace still threatened on the break. Everton were pushing hard for a goal, both fullbacks supporting attacks and offering width, meaning there was always the danger of being caught out- as Palace have done to several teams this season…

18

Here, a quick break (with our fullbacks up field) has left Everton totally exposed and meant the ball eventually falling to Jason Puncheon who forced a very smart reflex save from Tim Howard in the Everton net…

19

Not for the first time tonight, doing well to keep his side level as palace broke at speed. Of course, Everton being Everton, we managed to concede from the resulting corner and prove once and for all the existence of sod’s law.

20

Gareth Barry is ‘marking’ Scott Dann, but is nowhere near to being touch tight. He allows Dann to build up a head of steam and get a run at him, getting all the momentum as he attacks the ball, leaving himself helpless to contest the header…

21

Dann does the rest and nods in from close range. With fifteen minutes to go, Everton have managed to shoot themselves in the foot. Again. Dominating for long periods of the game, but we can’t be relied on for defensive fundamentals: marking from set pieces and defending between the sticks as we should. It’s happened so often this season. It should be said- the other team gets paid too, and it’s a good ball in from Palace and a good goal from their perspective, but that’s another problem- not only can we not defend set pieces- we can’t put in a good corner in ourselves. Thirteen corners we had to their six. We didn’t go close once. Palace went very close with one of theirs and scored from another. A third of their corners. We couldn’t muster a single chance from ours. Problems continue at both ends of the pitch for Roberto Martinez and his coaching staff from set pieces that just won’t go away.

Palace immediately made two subs, Everton did not. Nor did we for the remainder of the game. Personally, I wanted Mirallas given how open the game had been: the amount of space he would’ve been afforded (I actually wanted him for some time prior to their goal), others wanted Naismith or Lennon, especially given how Kone had managed to drift out of the game as it went on. No change came. A bench with plenty of attacking options was not turned to. To be fair, the side was playing well, but it seemed strange to refuse to turn to a fresh set of legs as the game wore on.

Again, Everton being Everton, and sod’s law being sod’s law, there was time for us to strike the woodwork for a third time, Lukaku again, this time from an instinctive half volley outside the area…

22

Of course, the rebound wouldn’t come down for Kone following in, it was one of those nights after all.

Everton did manage to get a deserved equaliser with ten minutes remaining…

23

Ross Barkley managed to turn away from a Palace challenge, and plays a defence splitting pass through to Deulofeu…

24

As Deulofeu picks up the ball, Lukaku is on the back post telling Deulofeu where he wants the ball, and the Catalan winger obliges…

25

The formidable pairing hadn’t quite been on the same wavelength all night long, but they were here. Deulofeu’s cross was perfect, and Lukaku managed to bag his fiftieth after a frustrating evening. It was no more than what Everton’s play had deserved.

That, however, was pretty much that. Some more huffing and puffing, and a bit of a chance late on, but nothing really of note in the final ten minutes. A draw. Another draw. We’ve got to get better at the back from crosses and set pieces, otherwise a season of promise will be lost. We can’t afford that. Not when our boss crop of young players will be coveted by the champions league playing sides throughout Europe. But we did play well. Very well. We did enough to win. We just need to get a bit more street smart. Fast. Norwich away up next. Up the toffees.

As always, you can find me on twitter for more questionable logic: https://twitter.com/EvertonMusings

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