Everton’s patience was finally rewarded with a late Seamus Coleman strike as the Blues snatched victory over Crystal Palace.
Wayne Hennessey had previously been the hero for the Eagles, denying Kevin Mirallas, Ross Barkley and Ramiro Funes Mori in the first half.
The second was largely controlled by the visitors, but the Palace rearguard looked in no mood to allow any clear cut chances.
But when Tom Davies slipped a pass to Coleman, the Irishman blasted high into the roof of the net for the game’s only goal.
Manager Ronald Koeman insisted it was not a straightforward decision to name an unchanged starting line-up following the 4-0 victory over Manchester City. “We have some new players who have come in such as Morgan [Schneiderlin] and Ademola [Lookman] and at the start of the season we had Maarten [Stekelenburg] as first choice goalkeeper,” he explained. “But I thought that all of the players who started last week deserved to start the game today.”
Belgian winger Mirallas had warned his teammates that stopping the crosses and denying service to his compatriot, Christian Benteke, would be crucial for the Toffees and the danger posed by the Belgian striker was underlined early when James McArthur exploited time and space on the left to whip in a perfect delivery which Benteke headed onto the crossbar. There were only eight minutes on the clock and, with Swansea’s win at Anfield having thrust Palace into the bottom three, the home team was showing firm intent to secure a first Premier League victory under new manager Sam Allardyce.
Barkley threatened on the edge of the penalty area and his shot was diverted by Scott Dann, the Palace captain, for a corner. He also had a shot from outside the area well saved by Hennessy having been set up by Romelu Lukaku from Leighton Baines’s cross. In between, Hennessy had been forced to pull off an outstanding save from Mirallas who brought the ball down inside the penalty area and volleyed spectacularly on the turn, only for the Welsh international to palm the ball away. For Everton, it was a good, assertive start to the game, with Gareth Barry and Baines passing the ball around comfortably, Tom Davies making promising runs and Barkley, Mirallas and Lukaku looking dangerous in the attacking positions.
Everton were comfortable and it looked like they had taken the lead following a driving run by Barkley who spread the ball to Lukaku before Coleman took the reins on the overlap. His cross was half cleared but the ball landed for Lukaku whose shot on the turn struck the upright and came back for Barkley who rifled his shot into the net, alas from an offside position. From a corner kick soon after, Hennessy made another stupendous save when Ashley Williams’s flick-on and Damien Delaney’s defensive header created an opening for Funes Mori who struck his shot powerfully and forced the Palace goalkeeper to earn his spurs once again.
Coleman did well to snuff out the danger when a break by Benteke and a strong run by Loic Remy almost opened a hole the size of Croydon in the Everton defence, the Irish international captain cleverly reading the run of the ball and shepherding it back to Joel Robles. All that was missing was a goal and it remained elusive even after a superb long ball by Davies in behind the Palace defenders at the beginning of the second half with Barkley running onto it and dragging his low shot from an acute angle wide of Hennessy and the far post.
Jeffrey Schlupp made a strong run into the Everton area and forced a corner off Coleman, Dann’s header from the corner kick getting blocked before Coleman made a run at the other end and fired off a shot from 25 yards which Hennessy gathered at the second attempt. Another Coleman cross yielded a heading opportunity for Lukaku but his effort cleared the crossbar and, for all Everton’s fine play and apparent control of the game, it was still level as Schneiderlin came on in place of Barry two minutes short of the hour mark.
Barkley fired another long-range effort at goal which was on target until Hennessy intervened with a diving save to his right. With 20 minutes remaining, Lookman took to the pitch in place of Mirallas as Joe Ledley replaced Yohan Cabaye and, within a minute, he had played a one-two with his pal, Lukaku, on the edge of the penalty area and his shot was saved by Hennessy.
Coleman did superbly to create space for another cross into the box and Baines’ battle to get on the end of it was foiled by the discipline and doggedness of the Palace defence. Then it was Robles’ turn to prove his worth. Jason Puncheon’s free kick on the left was met firmly by the head of Dann who could hardly believe it when Robles scrambled across to his right and made the save with his right hand, a truly brilliant cameo. If Hennessy had kept his team in the game with a succession of saves throughout, Robles’ resistance when it mattered was no less significant.
Everton’s possession stats were much superior – 61 percent to Palace’s 39 per cent – and finally they landed the killer blow. Davies to Coleman and his shot arrowed high past Hennessey and into the net, prompting jubilation in the packed away end. And so it remained, even though Dann went mighty close again with a header. But the Blues' relief was evident at the final whistle, as they took all three points back up north.