Palace and Conor Gallagher find Everton in obliging mood

Ian King
Conor Gallagher celebrates scoring for Crystal Palace against Everton

Crystal Palace had been struggling for goals, but a superb performance from Conor Gallagher and an obliging Everton defence saw them right.


It wasn’t quite that Crystal Palace couldn’t buy a goal this season. They went into their match against Everton having scored 18 goals in 15 matches. It wasn’t great, but it was hardly a calamity, either.

Five clubs – Wolves, Brighton, Southampton, Burnley and Norwich – had scored fewer. Crystal Palace have been transformed by Patrick Vieira, but few other teams in the Premier League look quite as much like a jigsaw puzzle missing one simple piece. Christian Benteke, Wilfried Zaha and Conor Gallagher had each scored four goals, going into Palace’s match against Everton, but the team had only scored one in their previous three games, and had fired blanks in the last two.

Everton continue to confound expectations, whether high or low. Their recent run of bad form had been sufficient to allow us to start thinking, ‘Okay, so Everton are bad, then’, but then they went and turned that upside-down by beating Arsenal. Goodison Park has three volume settings: feverish, low grumble, and furious booing, and their comeback win pushed the stadium quickly from the middle setting to the former, with the latter having been heard loudly at the end of the Merseyside derby. Two draws and six defeats from your previous eight games will do that to a fan base.

But was the Arsenal result enough to wipe the memory of the previous eight matches clean? Apparently not. Everton were terrible throughout the first half, and by the time they woke up in the second, Palace were already two goals up and sailing off into the distance. Palace dominated first-half possession, but created little and squandered opportunities to create more. Everton hunkered down into a defensive position, apparently happy to sit back and absorb, and to try to hit on the counter, if possible.

But as with many ill-conceived plans, Rafa’s seemed to be working until it wasn’t. Five minutes from half-time they had about three chances to clear the ball before it ended up at Jordan Ayew’s feet on the right-hand side of the penalty area and he pulled back for Conor Gallagher to sweep it past Jordan Pickford; a goal almost brutal in its simplicity, Everton’s defence suddenly cut open by this sudden burst of Palace attacking coherence.

The booing started ten minutes into the second half, and so did the less than complimentary songs about Rafa Benitez. Solomon Rondon and Anthony Gordon replaced Delph and Richarlison for Everton, and neither of those being withdrawn seemed particularly pleased with the results. With considerable inevitability, the second Palace goal arrived just minutes later, a corner from the right flicked on for James Tomkins to appear unguarded at the far post to prod home.

But Everton weren’t quite beyond redemption yet. They’d already picked up 10 points from losing positions this season, more than any other team in the Premier League. after all. And with 20 minutes to play, Rondon popped up to drag them back into this game, reacting quickest to a deflected shot. Minutes later his pass found Andros Townsend, whose shot was deflected narrowly wide. With five minutes to play the other substitute, Gordon, ran through on the right and saw his shot saved and, loose ball rolling across the penalty area between three attacking players.

But on this occasion Everton couldn’t find a way back, and in the third minute of stoppage-time at the end of the match, Gallagher wrapped up the points, picking up yet another mistake, this time a hopelessly mis-hit quick free-kick by Seamus Coleman, cutting inside, and curling a delicious shot in off the underside of the crossbar. Everton’s defence may have been giving goals away like toffees, but this was also a superb goal from Gallagher; it was also a thoroughly deserved three points for Crystal Palace.

It’s difficult to believe Gallagher will be at Selhurst Park beyond the end of this season. Patrick Vieira is known to very, very much want to sign him on a permanent contract, but one of the ironies of Gallagher’s loan from Chelsea is that the better he does for Palace, the less attainable he becomes for them on a permanent basis. His transfer value increases, his wage demands increase, and he ends up becoming unaffordable for Palace.

Whatever energy did consume Goodison Park at the end of Everton’s match against Arsenal, it had disappeared by the time of the full-time whistle at Selhurst Park. The substitution of Richarlison was particularly mysterious considering his performance against Arsenal, and it should be deeply troubling to Benitez that all three of Palace’s goals came directly as a result of defensive mistakes made by his own team. If all the positivity that was seen after the Arsenal match could evaporate this quickly, it doesn’t say much for the character of his current squad, either.

And even with this comfortable win, Crystal Palace showed part of the reason why they’ve drawn so many matches so far this season. After an hour, they were 2-0 up against a team who had two people sitting on the bench glowering after having been taken off against their will and audible booing coming from their supporters. But within 10 minutes, Everton had pegged them back to 2-1 and had relocated a little of the colour that had earlier seemed so inexplicably drained from their cheeks. Palace ultimately deserved the win, but Gallagher’s late goal masked how difficult they’d made the previous 20 minutes for themselves. But if he can maintain this sort of form, Crystal Palace’s need for a goalscorer might even already be answered. For a while, at least.