Palace 0 Everton 1: Deep Breaths All Round As Lukaku Seals Win

By @Markthablue

THIS is not the end of our troubles. We’re still in a precarious position but it is something for us to build on and hopefully move ourselves away from the relegation zone.

Quite simply there is nothing like three points to pick a team up. Let’s hope we can take some belief and confidence into the next few games as the quest for mid table mediocrity is going to be have to be done the hard way given our tasty run of fixtures coming up.

I dread to think what I’d be writing if we had lost on Saturday.

A first win in nine is hardly time to crack open the champagne but certainly the ale went down smoother on Saturday night. The very feeling three points gives you is fantastic. That I’m talking about a win like this highlights the sense of desperation a lot of Evertonians have felt about our plight this season.

However, this was this was much more like it.

Based on the defensive granite that was Phil Jagielka and John Stones, the blues had the foundations to go on and record our first win since December. Both players were exceptional here and we’re gonna need that level of consistency and quality right through untill May is out for sure.

Huge credit to Jagielka, he is not the most verbal captain you will ever come across and he has come in for some stick lately but the captain did what he does best at Selhurst Park. He led by example with a commanding performance and a welcome return to form just when we needed it.

Behind them, the ever improving Joel Robles, albeit with a few creases to be ironed out, is combining to make us, for the first time this season, look solid at the back. And it was no coincidence we recorded our first win of 2015 with our defence back at its most concrete.

Still, the tendency to invite teams onto us is annoying and something we need to get better at. Yes, I have been saying this since August I think, but it would be picky to make a song and dance about it with the relegation zone seemingly opening wider than the Mersey tunnel. It was truly all about the result come hook or by crook.

Overall defensively we looked much better but let’s not escape the fact that it was panicky last-ditch stuff  at times. For me the clean sheet was well deserved given the players commitment and desire to the cause, if not at times the true quality we possess. Particularly in possession.

The blues got off to great start and it proved the all important moment. A build up of great quality involving Stones and Naismith, before the Scot fired a low cross that Speroni got a hand to, only to palm it into the path of Lukaku who bundled home to send the magnificent Everton travelling support into orbit.

Lukaku’s hold up play was rightfully questioned once more but his desire to get into the box and get on the end of Naismith’s cross resulted in a huge win for us. The hold up play can wait as long as Rom is doing this.

Looking at Lukaku’s scoring record, and I’m not just blindly defending Lukaku here, but his rate of goals per game is fantastic and he truly does, along with Ross Barkley who was rightly dropped here, deserve the fans patience.

A great start was almost wiped out before the blues fans had finished celebrating. Jagielka in the right place at the right time to deny Gayle a certain equalizer by hooking the Palace strikers effort off the line to preserve the blues lead.

Stones then thankfully got in the way of Chamakh’s goal bound effort after good football all round with Chamakh’s lovely control and shot matched by the bravery from the ever impressive Stones. Palace took the early concession personally, pinning us back uncomfortably following Lukaku’s strike.

The game entered a welcome lull as the blues sought to regain some semblance of control in the match. Sounds ridiculous when a goal to the good but Palace looked dangerous initially.

The blues had a chance to give the team and the fans some breathing space but where is the fun in that when we can have everyone’s nerves gone instead. Naismith scooping over when well placed from Lukaku’s powerful run and cross.

The Belgian himself then wasting a great chance. Given my protective stance on Lukaku, I do acknowledge that our Belgian striker is so infuriating at times. Rom getting onto the end of great pass from Naismith before criminally letting his touch get away from him – not for the first time this season – and letting the chance go begging.

Half time arrived soon after with Lukaku’s goal the difference and the sense that despite notable pressure from Palace we could have been two or three up. If only Lukaku could get his act together with his first touch.

The worry as ever this season was that we would be made to pay for our lack of ruthlessness in the second half.

Sure enough Palace came out and put us under pressure with a much higher tempo to their play. Compounding the issue was our own lack of quality in possession as teams already think they can take something from us, we really don’t need to be encouraging anyone currently with sloppy play.

Thankfully the excellent Stones and Jagielka meant such flagrant disregard for possession of the ball didn’t result in us losing our crucial one goal advantage.

Palace admittedly going close when Sanogo failed to connect to Gayle’s cross during the height of their momentum, but Everton refused to lie down. A real sight for sore eyes and determination to keep Palace out personified by our excellent centre backs.

Great to be able to say this after a season where we have technically been the village bike since August. Everyone having a go and Palace must have thought we were there for the taking again ahead of the game.

Maybe the trip to Dubai worked, much maligned by myself admittedly, the blues starting life after Samuel Eto’o looked a much more collective unit A coincidence? It wasn’t back to the heady days of last season but this was much more like it.

One of the more pleasing aspects to come out of the game was our fitness and we seemed to grow stronger and had our fair share of chances to increase our lead as much as Palace had to draw level.

McGeady with five minutes left saw his curling effort draw a flying save for the cameras from Speroni and Lukaku, continuing his promising link up play with Naismith, ought to have scored with three minutes remaining but he preferred to have us chew our nails for a few minutes longer by shooting into the side netting.

Palace huffed and puffed but the blues defence stayed resolute and we even had time to see McGeady incur yet more wrath from the fans. Wasting yet another chance in the dying embers. Frustration soon turning into elation with the final whistle arriving shortly after.

I’m slightly embarrassed to say it given my expectations at the start of the season but my first emotion was overwhelming relief here. Such as been the very real threat of dropping into the bottom three. This is by no means averted with the result, it has pushed us seven points clear of the drop zone, a cushion so desperately needed.

A special mention for Gareth Barry. Hes rightly come in for some stick this season but I think were finally getting to see the 2013-14 Barry at long last. Breaking up play and linking also, his combination with the boundless Besic played an important part in the blues victory.

Barry with James McCarthy frustratingly missing out through injury once more, stood up to the plate today and long may it continue.

That said it is bizarre how much Barry plays given his age. And the mouth-watering partnership of the ever improving Mo Besic and James McCarthy is something I think that will remain on the back burner. Not ideal, quite simply it for all the world looks like a clause in his contract. If Barry is fit, he plays. Credit where it’s due though the ex Man City man justified his inclusion today for me.

A great result for us meant a nice weekend with Match of the Day and the Sunday papers. All about the small things as the blues climbed to 12th ahead of a crucial Goodison derby next week. A game a lot of fans have already written off judging by comments on twitter.

First of all, let’s have it right, it kills me to admit it but they are currently playing better than us and there is every chance we could lose next Saturday. But is it really helping anyone being so defeatist a week before the game? Sturridge will score five past us next week is a flavor of the comments I have seen.

Guys we beat Liverpool with Mark Ward, Paul Holmes and Preki once. We have to believe anything is possible and we certainly have the players to hurt Liverpool if we believe it enough. Possibly with one or two more added in the transfer window in the meantime.

Given the boards atrocious record in January I will not be holding my breath. Maybe no new signings but certainly some defensive solidity has come into the squad and we’re going to need every inch of that against the likes of Sturridge and co.

An occasion for people to stand up and be counted, the players empowered by the extreme rarity of a clean sheet will hopefully be in no mood to revert to type in the space of a week.

Let’s just be slightly more positive guys and I realise the irony in that given the negativity of a lot my tweets, but I genuinely think we can beat Liverpool and start to propel ourselves up the league table.

“The fans have been fantastic throughout this tough run and they were again today. It was great to celebrate with them at the end.” Roberto Martinez

No better stage than the Merseyside derby.

Just repeat that quote next Saturday evening Roberto. A few wrongs this season are in need of being righted.

Sin Miedo

Mark Ellis writes for Everton Viral

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