They wouldn’t go. Not the fans who took to the pitch at Goodison Park and sang with raw emotion for 30 minutes after the final whistle. Not the players who joined the choir on the other side of a police cordon. Not Frank Lampard, who disappeared into the crowd and reappeared on the roof of the executive boxes to soak up the praise.
And not Everton. Their Premier League life was in decline after a desperate 45 minutes against Crystal Palace. They wouldn’t go.
Five minutes of normal time remained of a tense but unforgettable encounter. Five minutes at Everton to retain their top-flight status for a 69th year and avoid having to battle a first relegation since 1951 on the final day at Arsenal. Dominic Calvert-Lewin timed his impact on Everton’s year to perfection.
Throwing himself in to meet Demarai Gray’s free-kick, the centre-forward who has missed the season so much through injury launched into Goodison Park folklore with a diving header past Jack Butland.
Lampard’s side had trailed 2-0 at the break; chaotic, uncertain and in freefall towards the Championship. Now, galvanized by the half-time introduction of Dele Alli and graced by goals from Michael Keane, Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin, they have had a comeback to compare with the final day breakout against Wimbledon in 1994. The riposte sparked an insane first pitch invasion that resulted in seven minutes of stoppage time. When it was over, however, it was a response that will never be forgotten in these regions.
Lampard had done the job. The consequences of relegation were vast for a club in Everton’s financial situation and with a new stadium under construction at Bramley Moore dock. Survival allows for reconstruction and, in these circumstances, an understandable celebration.
The Evertonians couldn’t have done more to push their beloved club over the line. For the third consecutive home game, the Everton manager was greeted by a passionate mass of supporters on Goodison Road, but in far greater numbers and with far more blue smoke bombs than before Chelsea and Brentford.
Repeated calls on the tannoy for fans to clear space ‘to allow players access to the stadium’ gave a sense of support and desperation for a final win in a torturous season. It looked more like the prelude to a cup final than a relegation drop.
The crowd’s desperation seeped into the team’s performance in the first half. The hosts were frantic, nervous and overly dependent on the long punt to an isolated Calvert-Lewin. The rudimentary approach played perfectly in the hands of a composed and confident Palace team.
Patrick Vieira dropped two of his most influential midfielders to the bench in Conor Gallagher and Cheikhou Kouyaté, but the visitors still dominated possession. The cunning and intent shown by Eberechi Eze, Wilfried Zaha and Jeffrey Schlupp contrasted sharply with the wastefulness of André Gomes and Abdoulaye Doucouré.
Goodison’s mood was interrupted after Gomes and Doucouré were penalized for fouling Tyrick Mitchell deep in Everton’s half. Eze swept in a dangerous free-kick at the far post where Jean-Philippe Mateta easily escaped the feeble attentions of Doucouré and Vitalii Mykolenko to guide a school header past Jordan Pickford from close range.
Goodison was in turmoil again when Anthony Gordon was chiseled by a dangerous challenge from Jordan Ayew. The Palace striker went over the top but escaped with a yellow card. Two minutes later he added to Everton’s turmoil by doubling the visitors’ lead.
It was a calamitous goal to concede, starting with Séamus Coleman dispossessed by Mateta who rushed on the left before crossing. Five blue shirts had chased but Pickford opted to clear and scuffed his clearance to Zaha. The winger’s shot bounced off the ground, Pickford made a save, but only to Ayew who scrambled the ball past Mykolenko and Doucouré on the goal line.
Everton created almost nothing in the first half. Something had to change and Lampard introduced the less spotty Alli for the mismatched Gomes and switched to 4-3-3. It was the former Tottenham playmaker’s first appearance since May 1 and his introduction helped spark an immediate improvement, taking Everton higher up the pitch and providing more time on the ball.
The home team needed a quick response. It happened when Mykolenko fired a free kick deep from the left and Mason Holgate headed for Keane, who controlled with his left thigh before piercing Butland with his right.
Everton’s relentless search for an equalizer left them exposed to the counterattack and Pickford saved Mateta well. Keane was booked for mowing down Eze, Calvert-Lewin was lucky not to follow suit for a foul on Nathaniel Clyne, but just when Everton seemed to be losing their temper they found a way to get back in back.
Alli was heavily involved, slamming Coleman’s cross to his chest and volleying low through goal. A Palace touch only cleared to Richarlison who miscontrolled with his first touch but managed to unleash a shot with his second. The ball hit Gallagher, who had replaced Schlupp a minute earlier, and curled past Butland. Goodison broke, and there was more to come.