A rainy afternoon in South London was the setting for a lively 2-2 draw between Crystal Palace and Everton as both sides fought for a victory they desperately needed.
With both hosts and visitors in trouble at the wrong end of the Premier League, a single point suited neither, but defeat would have been unthinkable.
The game began horrendously for Toffees caretaker boss David Unsworth as the hosts were ahead within a minute at Selhurst Park. Palace’s first attack of the game was finished off by James McArthur, who found the net after Ruben Loftus-Cheek had forced Jordan Pickford into an early save.
However, that lead was short-lived as the Evertonians fought back to level matters soon after. Eagles defender Scott Dann fouled Oumar Niasse in the penalty area, and Leighton Baines made no mistake from the spot.
There was a real question mark over whether Niasse was touched at all in this one – and that doubt led to an FA charge for ‘simulation’ in the days following the game.
Wilfried Zaha then put the Eagles back in the driving seat, as he was brilliantly picked out by a cross from Joel Ward, allowing him to roll the ball into an empty net at the far post on 35 minutes.
What then followed was a calamitous piece of Palace defending as Everton were handed their second gift of the day, thanks again Dann and goalkeeper Julian Speroni.
‘Referee Andrew Taylor was booed and jeered off the pitch by the home support after the game, the Palace faithful laying the blame for the dropped points on his shoulders’
The pair nervously exchanged passes before Idrissa Gueye stepped in to intercept, and Niasse took the opportunity with great aplomb, rolling home to put his team back on level terms on the stroke of half time.
There was far less goalmouth action in the second half but it was not for want of trying. Palace dominated throughout but ultimately were not being able to find the key to unlock the Everton door. In fact for all of their possession and attacking intent a key element of the forward line did seem to be missing all day.
A certain Belgian sitting on the bench looked on longingly, and in fact there were a few deliveries again from Ward in the second half that might well have been more of a problem for Pickford if Christian Benteke had been on the pitch.
In the second half, both defences were tightened up and even the eventual late introduction of Benteke, left out of the starting line-up, could not deliver a winner.
Referee Andrew Taylor was booed and jeered off the pitch by the home support after the game, the Palace faithful laying the blame for the dropped points on his shoulders as the full-time whistle blew.
Sitting down for just three minutes to chat to the media, Palace boss Roy Hodgson was irritated by his side’s inability to turn possession into victory.
‘We can discuss it till the cows come home, but the referee gave it as a penalty they took it and they scored it’ – Roy Hodgson
“If you look at the performance over 95 minutes, I believe we played well enough to win the game,” he claimed.
In combative mood, the ex-England manager was then asked whether it was time to turn these dropped points into wins. “Yeah, well how do you do that?” he shot back at his inquisitor, staring into his soul.
When it was suggested it was his job to galvanise his team, Hodgson then asked pointedly: “So what do I actually do then?”
On the issue of the penalty, he said: “I’m pretty certain you’ve asked Dave Unsworth the same question and he’s said it was a foul, and now you’ll ask me and I’ll say it wasn’t.
“We can discuss it till the cows come home, but the referee gave it as a penalty they took it and they scored it.”
When the press conference cameras were switched off, Hodgson turned to journalists and began a small rant, visibly irritated by the way the game had gone.
In fairness to him, many would agree that Loftus-Cheek and Zaha have breathed fresh life into his side.
Unsworth praises team
Everton’s heroics in coming from behind to beat Watford may feel a distant memory, but Unsworth’s credentials as a potential Everton manager may well be enhanced after recent weeks.
A lot of Blues fans will argue that Ronald Koeman failed to get any kind of response during the final weeks of his tenure. At least the team are playing for Unsworth.
He could yet remain in the role, given Everton’s unsuccessful tug-of-war with Watford over Marco Silva.
After the game Unsworth was in fairly good spirits. “They’ve been terrific since the first training session that we came together, up until today’s game. They’ve given me everything and I can tell the Everton fans have given me everything as well.”
Then on the penalty and with the smell of an FA charge in the air, Unsworth understandably took the “I haven’t seen it since and couldn’t see it from where I was sitting” approach.
Only time will tell whether his efforts thus far will be enough for majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri and chairman Bill Kenwright to give him the job on a permanent basis, but the former player continues to stake a claim.