One full-length diving header into the Howard Kendall Gwladys Street net after 85 minutes of a full-blooded contest at a deafening and euphoric Goodison Park released Evertonians from months of purgatory.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin propelled himself at Demarai Gray’s 85th-minute free-kick from the right, applying contact to send the ball inside Jack Butland’s left post.
In that instant, days and weeks of anxiety and sleepless nights, of repeatedly consulting league standings and fixture lists, were washed away on a wave of unbridled joy.
Everton had overturned a two-goal deficit to defeat Crystal Palace and guarantee Premier League survival.
There were more than faint echoes, here, of Everton’s come-from-behind victory over Wimbledon to secure Premier League safety in 1994.
No, this wasn’t do-or-die, like the game 28 years ago.
But it felt that way at a febrile Goodison nonetheless.
Everton were two goals behind after 36 minutes and the deficit remained until minute 54, when Michael Keane’s accomplished finish set the stage for a comeback for the ages.
Richarlison, so often the man for the big occasion of late, equalised with 15 minutes remaining to send another surge of belief rolling around a stadium that was rocking to its 130-year-old foundations.
And Calvert-Lewin, starting for only the second time in the past month, athletically and dramatically confirmed Everton will play top-flight football for a 69th straight year when he put his name emphatically on Gray’s dipping set-piece.
Gray instantly sunk to his knees, overjoyed and emotional, while Calvert-Lewin furiously beat his chest, the release of emotion and pressure after a personally frustrating campaign mirroring the emotions of his entire club.
Frank Lampard’s name was sung lustily as an interminable period of stoppage time played out.
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HIGHLIGHTS: EVERTON 3-2 CRYSTAL PALACE
Nobody really envisaged Palace responding, the script was written and it concluded with Calvert-Lewin’s intervention.
Lampard has been consumed by the task of preserving Everton’s Premier League status for the entirety of a 108-day reign. For him, too, this represents the closing of a chapter, the turning of a page.
In time, this successful fight against the drop will be viewed as a platform from which to build, to reinvigorate and revitalise.
But the noise that filled the air as supporters crowded onto the turf where their team had just delivered 45 minutes filled with drama and ecstasy, suggests this victory will be celebrated for a while yet.
The left side of Crystal Palace’s team is loaded with confident, mobile and imaginative footballers.
So it is down that flank where Patrick Vieira’s team repeatedly direct attacks.
And the goal that stunned Goodison Park after 21 harum-scarum minutes stemmed from a ball delivered from Everton’s right.
Not by Tyrick Mitchell, the young left-back who had already presented Ayew with a headed opportunity the forward steered off target.
Nor was it sent over by perpetual menace Wilfried Zaha, whose tete-a-tete with Anthony Gordon inside two minutes had the effect of dropping a lit match on raging furnace.
No, Palace won a free-kick when Jeffrey Schlupp, the third of Palace’s left-wing raiders, was impeded by Andre Gomes.
Eberechi Eze served over the set-piece, an inswinger that Mateta met roughly six yards from goal to power a downwards header beyond the helpless Jordan Pickford.
Everton had come fairly close to an opening goal themselves five minutes earlier.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin adds pace and touch and physicality to the forward line for Lampard’s team.
He also brings the simple virtue of height and, as against Brentford on Sunday when Calvert-Lewin returned from injury, Everton had no compunction over aiming for the Englishman’s head.
Pickford went direct on the quarter hour, inviting Calvert-Lewin to flick the ball on for Richarlison, who duly became the meat in a sandwich also comprising Joachim Andersen and Will Hughes.
Richarlison took the free-kick, from 20 yards, and grazed the top of the bar. There was the suspicion of a fingertip touch from Jack Butland but Anthony Taylor, the referee, was adamant over his decision to award a goal-kick.
Everton went down the direct route in their search for an equaliser – but not before Vitalii Mykolenko was off target with an effort after Seamus Coleman flipped a ball to the far post for the onrushing Ukranian.
When Pickford went long, once more, Gordon hoovered up the seconds, feeding Richarlison for an effort Butland clutched to his midriff.
Those episodes sandwiched more fluid play from the away team. Again down the left and again with Zaha and Mitchell prominent.
The overlapping defender hared onto Zaha’s flick and whipped in a delivery Keane, facing his own goal, did very well to head behind.
Ayew barrelling into Gordon in front of the dugouts sparked an angry melee, Pickford covering half the length of the field to inform Taylor how high the challenge caught his teammate.
Goodison bellowed for VAR to intervene but those pleas fell on deaf ears, from the officials on site and those stationed in Stockley Park.
And Everton’s ire was heightened when Palace stretched their lead three minutes later.
Mateta was the architect, pouncing on Coleman’s heavy touch and steaming forwards with the power and speed of a champion 400-metre runner.
The eventual cross was partially cleared by a combination of Pickford and Mykolenko.
Zaha returned the ball towards goal and profited from a slice of fortune when it landed with Ayew, rather than any of the handful of blue shirts in the vicinity.
Ayew’s finish was unconvincing, but the Ghanaian applied sufficient contract to force the ball into the net.
For all Butland’s sure handling, he looked ill at ease with the ball at his feet. One hurried clearance, following aggressive Everton pressing, was eventually recycled for Gomes, who forced the keeper to save down to his left.
Richarlison headed off target from a Mykolenko delivery and Everton appealed in vain for a penalty when a ball flipped off Schlupp’s knee and onto his hand.
Lampard went early with his first change, Dele replacing Gomes for the second half, and Everton shuffling the pack to revert to a back-four, with Alex Iwobi advancing to operate in a midfield three.
And only nine minutes after the restart, three of the hosts’ new-look backline linked to breathe fresh life into the match.
Andersen was penalised for a foul on Dele on Everton’ left.
Mykolenko hung the free-kick to the far post, where Mason Holgate emerged to steer the ball back to Keane.
He seized the opportunity like a seasoned centre-forward, controlling and striking a low shot, with minimal backlift, that flew into the bottom left corner.
Gray was sent on in place of Gordon around the hour – but Palace, still exceptionally dangerous when racing forwards in number, had the next opportunity.
It fell for Mateta, collecting Eze’s rolled pass, and the firm strike required a tremendous stop from Pickford.
The keeper was needed soon after, too, but the save from a Schlupp drive was straightforward.
Keane and Zaha traded bookings – for fouls on Eze and Dele, respectively, as the action raced from end to end.
Dele’s cute forwards ball didn’t connect with Abdoulaye Doucoure, visibly frustrated he’d not read his colleague’s intentions.
But any annoyance gave way to unbridled joy minutes later.
Gray skipped clear of a pair of challenges on the right, before reversing a ball for Coleman.
Dele gathered the cross and turned it towards the target, forcing Andersen into a panicked, underhit clearance.
Richarlison, as he has so often these past couple of months, did the rest. The Brazilian’s attempt deflected off Conor Gallagher, only just on for Schlupp, and travelled inside the far post.
He has six goals, in addition to two assists, from his past 10 matches.
And what about Calvert-Lewin, forced to watch large chunks of this difficult campaign from the sidelines, unable to help his team?
He was magnificent and, with five minutes remaining, scored a goal that assures the adopted Evertonian a place in Club legend.
Blues Summon Spirit of '94
Evertonians with long enough memories – and those who have watched reruns so often they must feel like they were there – were surely urging their team to summon the spirit of Wimbledon in 1994 after Crystal Palace established a two-goal lead.
Today, as on that day 28 years ago, a team from South London temporarily sucked the life and sound out of a vibrant and full-throated Goodison Park.
And on this occasion, just as back then, Everton and their supporters united for a compelling reaction.
This was a case of the Club’s fans simply refusing to accept defeat. And their players, in the spirit of the 11 Evertonians Frank Lampard demanded on the field, followed suit.
Sending Dele out for a half-time warm-up was a shrewd move from Lampard, sending a message of intent and rousing those still in their seats.
Nine minutes was all it took for Lampard’s change to take effect, even if this probably wasn’t how he imagine it happening.
Everton were playing with four at the back now, swapping from a back five, and three of those defenders hauled their side back into the contest.
Michael Keane’s finish was composure personified, after Mason Holgate applied the header to Vitalii Mykolenko’s free-kick into the box.
Richarlison played the Barry Horne role, equalising into the Gwladys Street goal where midfielder Horne swerved in an outrageous strike against Wimbledon.
That freed the stage for Calvert-Lewin.
He again added physicality, aerial prowess and guile to Everton’s attack following a return from injury at the weekend.
The striker’s luck has been out all season following the finest campaign of a fledgling career in 2021/22.
He came to the party late, however, determined to have a say in Everton’s fight for survival.
Calvert-Lewin is fit and sharp and it’s probably the first time he’s been able to say that since scoring in each of Everton’s opening three Premier League games this term.
There were nearly 70 minutes on the clock when he sprinted full tilt for an enthusiastic challenge on the left flank.
He won countless headers across the night, progressively pinning Palace onto the back foot as Everton mounted their comeback.
And then Calvert-Lewin scored his 58th and most important goal for Everton to banish fears of relegation once and for all.
Triple Forces Combine For Blues Safety
Everton extinguished the threat of relegation with their latest turbo-charged home performance, to match another booming Goodison Park atmosphere.
Ultimately, the combination of thousands of Evertonians who refused to countenance a bottom-three finish, the smart and empathetic management of Frank Lampard, and a team reacting to those twin forces, extended the Club’s top-flight presence into a 69th year.
My, this felt a long way off barely three weeks ago, when Everton slipped five points behind Burnley in 17th.
Granted, the Premier League table was peculiarly slanted following Burnley’s victory over Watford on 30 April, with Everton owning two games in hand over both the Lancashire club and fellow relegation candidates Leeds United.
The standings made for stark reading, nonetheless, especially with fans of those two rival clubs licking their lips over an Everton fixture list that featured Chelsea and Leicester City on the immediate horizon.
This was where Evertonians and Goodison came into their own. Lampard, so measured under pressure as he navigated the Club through one of the most unsettling periods in its recent history, had begun the process of fortifying Everton on home turf.
They claimed seven points from three home matches prior to Chelsea’s visit, conceding only once across those games.
Goodison thrummed as Newcastle United, thrillingly, were beaten and Manchester United vanquished.
But from the first turn of the team coach’s wheels on Goodison Road on 1 May, this fight for Premier League safety gained untold energy and vigour and momentum, commodities which would eventually help inoculate Everton against the drop.
On the pitch, Everton wedded speed and fight to quality in key areas to defeat Chelsea, then bank three more points from the forbidding-looking visit to Leicester.
There was a stutter – albeit, the subsequent point obtained at Watford, like the home draw with Leicester three weeks earlier, was indicative of an increasingly durable team after only four draws from the opening 31 matches – but never a sense of Everton losing confidence or direction.
The mitigating factors around Sunday’s defeat by Brentford allowed focus to remain on the positive aspects of that performance – and a transfer of the spirit and unity and vitality shown on the pitch and in the stands to this encounter with dangerously free-wheeling Palace.
With this success – as crucial a victory as this club has achieved over the past quarter century, given the gravity of the situation – Lampard’s side has won four and drawn two of eight fixtures.
The jump from 25 points to 39 points inside six weeks has preserved Everton’s treasured top-flight status.
When the dust settles, attention will turn to ensuring this rollicking Goodison night is one day remembered as a transformational occasion in the Club’s storied history.