|Jason Puncheon strike | Image Courtesy|
Everton's battle for a top-four finish suffered a body blow with this 3-2 reverse at the hands of Crystal Palace. The defeat leaves Roberto Martinez's men in fifth place, one point behind Arsenal with four games of the season left to play.It also brought to an end a remarkable winning run. but despite the disappointment and frustration, the way in which the side battled valiantly to the end - bold in their attacking play in pursuit of the goals they craved - deserves credit. It typified the approach the team has adopted all season. And is the way they will continue to play their football in the remaining games of the campaign.
A magical Premier League season got even better for Palace as they reached the 40 point mark in style by seeing off Everton 3-2 with a brilliant display at Goodison Park to all but secure their top-flight status next season.
The red-hot Jason Puncheon gave Tony Pulis' side the lead with his fourth goal in three games, and Scott Dann added a second soon after half-time to put his side in control. Steven Naismith pulled one back before Cameron Jerome restored the two goal advantage and despite Kevin Mirallas' goal five minutes from time Palace held on to win a thriller on Merseyside that will go down in the club's folklore for years to come.
The opening 20 minutes saw the majority of the game played in the Eagles half without the hosts testing Julian Speroni. Two minutes has passed when Gareth Barry looped a header over the crossbar from a corner and soon after Aiden McGeady also missed the target by a similar margin after a mazy run from the halfway line.
But halfway through the first half the lead was Palace's with their first real attack. Yannick Bolasie played a one-two with Jerome and got to the byline before firing at Tim Howard, and the rebound fell to Marouane Chamakh who unselfishly squared to Jason Puncheon who found the bottom corner.
That stunned the Toffees who took a while to settle again, but came close when Mirallas embarked on a spot of inadvertent ball juggling on the edge of the box but blasted a shot on the turn narrowly over the top.
But seconds later the Eagles came inches away from doubling the lead. A quick counter-attack saw Bolasie with the ball in the final third and after the winger cut inside he thumped the ball towards goal and smacked the bottom of Howard's post, with Jerome screwing a first-time rebound attempt wide.
Late on in the half Speroni was finally forced into a save when he got down well to push an effort by Romelu Lukaku away from his near post, and the energetic Bolasie saw another dart inside produce a shooing chance which flashed over the bar.
After the half-time interval Palace continued the push for a second, and three minutes later they were rewarded. Joe Ledley forced Howard to push the ball around his post with a 20 yarder, and when Bolasie floated the resulting corner into the box Dann was there to plant a downwards header past the Toffees keeper to register his first Eagles goal in his hometown.
Roberto Martinez's men nearly produced a quickfire response when McGeady saw a rasper whistle past the beaten Speroni's far upright, but on the hour mark they did pull one back. Mirallas dinked a dangerous cross towards the back post which was headed back by Leighton Baines for substitute Naismith to bundle home from a couple of yards out.
With a Champions League spot in their sights Everton began to throw everything into getting an equaliser and Speroni did well to tip over a stinging shot by Leon Osman 20 minutes from time, but it was Palace who notched the all-important fourth goal. Puncheon ghosted in from the right and tucked in Jerome, and he showed superb composure to slot the ball past Howard and restore the two-goal lead.
Speroni kept that in tact by saving a drive from Ross Barkley with his legs but there was a nervy ending for Palace when the England midfielder saw a through-ball deflect into the path of Mirallas who dinked the ball over the Eagles custodian before poking home.
Despite six minutes of injury time the visitors saw off the siege their goal was under to reach the points target set out back in August and ensure another season of the best league in the world at Selhurst Park next year.
Everton: Howard; Coleman, Stones, Distin, Baines, Barry (Osman 59), Mirallas, Barkley, Deulofeu (Naismith 46), McGeady (McCarthy 59), Lukaku. Subs not used: Robles, Hibbert, Garbutt, Alcaraz.
Palace: Speroni, Mariappa (Parr 68), Delaney, Dann, Ward, Jedinak, Ledley, Bolasie, Puncheon, Chamakh (Murray 80), Jerome (O'Keefe 76). Subs not used: Hennessey, McCarthy, Ince, Gayle.