LNTUP

Everton Were Held By Crystal Palace At Selhurst Park In An Entertaining Encounter

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Roy Hodgson tried to highlight the positives, pointing to the chances Crystal Palace had created and the relative few they had conceded, and offering the visitors’ tally of fouls – 26 – as evidence of Everton’s desperation to wrest back some control. But, in the end, all that truly remained was exasperation. “I can’t ask for more than I got from the players, but I must admit to being bitterly disappointed,” he said. “I want to see points on the board.”

Palace are not performing like a side condemned to the foot of the division, with this the latest encouraging display that merited more than a mere point. They have belatedly injected some zest into their attacking play, boast pace and invention and their control of possession is less slapdash than it was. But they are still not winning games, and their leeway for dropping the odd point has gone. If Everton, such an awkward mishmash of a team, cannot be overcome, then who can?

The hosts were the more threatening team throughout, with Wilfried Zaha, Andros Townsend and Ruben Loftus-Cheek irrepressible. They eased ahead after barely 50 seconds, overcame a sense of injustice at Everton’s first equaliser to regain their lead and were even the more persuasive team after the interval. Yet the sight of Jordan Pickford pawing away efforts from Luka Milivojevic and Christian Benteke late on drew wails of frustration from the locals. This was a missed opportunity and, for all the controversy over the award of Leighton Baines’s penalty, it had been gifted to the visitors.

Palace had regained the lead courtesy of Zaha’s superbly constructed goal as the game lurched into stoppage time at the end of the first half, with Julián Speroni dummying Oumar Niasse as he controlled the ball inside his own area. His pass to Scott Dann left the captain in the lurch, Idrissa Gueye duly snapping in to force the ball free. Niasse calmly collected, advanced and slid the visitors’ second equaliser into the corner. “We committed hara-kiri,” said Hodgson. Speroni would make amends of sorts with a fine save from Dominic Calvert‑Lewin after the break, but the sense of deflation at half-time was palpable.

The penalty award, too, had grated. Niasse had been in Palace’s Soho offices on transfer deadline day after terms had effectively been agreed with Everton over an £8m move, only for the plug to be pulled just before the cut-off. Here he was a nuisance with a point to prove, wriggling away from Dann five minutes in and apparently sensing the centre-half might dangle a leg en route. There was no trip forthcoming – the contact was between centre-half’s shoulder and striker’s chest, though it was hardly forceful – but the referee, Anthony Taylor, was still convinced enough by the crumple to award the spot-kick.

“It was a long way away, but it looked like there was contact,” said David Unsworth. “But what I would say is Oumar will always take on an opportunity. If he’s got clipped or pushed …”

Baines scored and Hodgson was still complaining to the fourth official when the second half kicked off, but he recognised his team should have prospered regardless. They had led initially through James McArthur’s volley, the Scot pouncing after Pickford pushed out Loftus-Cheek’s shot. Zaha’s second, converted from Joel Ward’s wonderful centre, would have had him purring, but other opportunities did not yield reward. The winner they craved never came.

Instead it was Unsworth who was thumping his chest in pride at the end, the caretaker still desperate to make this position his own on a full-time basis. “If I get the job, I’ll be delighted,” he said. “But whoever gets the job, I’ll shake them by the hand and wish them the best. What will be will be.”

His team were fortunate, the rather disjointed nature of their squad all too apparent. But they are in a far healthier position than their hosts.