Sam Allardyce’s Crystal Palace tenure is just 29 days old, and yet already the former England manager will know he needs a quick turnaround in results if it is to significantly surpass his 67-day reign with the national team. A late Seamus Coleman strike, scored in controversial circumstances, consigned his side to a place in the relegation zone and stretched his wait for a first Premier League win to a sixth game.
Upon taking the job at Selhurst Park, Allardyce may have been confident that even if this costly squad of floundering players continued to underperform, three others elsewhere would manage to do worse. Then came Swansea’s lunchtime win at Anfield, which not only dropped Palace into the bottom three before a ball was even kicked here, but also suggested there are few certainties in this season’s relegation scrap.
Two changes were made to the Palace side which wilted at West Ham United last weekend, including a start for Jeffrey Schlupp, their £12.5million signing from Leicester City, and a switch to an on-trend back three. Koeman, by contrast, kept faith in the players that so emphatically dispatched Manchester City last weekend, leaving Morgan Schneiderlin among the substitutes.
The hosts began brightest, with Loic Remy threatening in the channels on his first league start, and they should have capitalised on their early dominance when James McArthur’s devilish in-swinging cross was met by Christian Benteke, back in the goals after a face-saving midweek brace against Bolton Wanderers. The Belgian striker’s header evaded a rooted Joel Robles but not the crossbar, which was left rattling.
This seemed to jolt Everton out of their initial stupor and for the remainder of the first half, Koeman’s men always looked likeliest to score. Kevin Mirallas and Ross Barkley were both denied before Tom Davies harmlessly cracked an effort well over from range.
The youngster will soon have Schneiderlin and Idrissa Gueye for competition in the Toffees' central midfield and, even with his heroics against City in the bank, the onus was on him to make a lasting impression. He showed some neat touches and clever running in the first-half, but his stand-out feature was - by some distance - his conspicuously rolled down socks, reminiscent of an era when his uncle, the 1970s striker Alan Whittle, became a cult hero at both these clubs.
Romelu Lukaku went closest to breaking the deadlock before the interval, driving a low effort against Wayne Hennessey’s left-hand post. Barkley tapped in the rebound, only to be correctly flagged offside. It seemed as though the breakthrough was coming and Ramiro Funes Mori should have found it, but Hennessey did well to deny him after Damien Delaney’s poor attempt to clear a corner.
Everton re-established their dominance after the re-start, enjoying possession of the ball deep in their opponents' territory, yet still they struggled to make it count. Davies’ delightful through ball played in the bright Barkley, but his effort skimmed across the face of Palace’s goal. Minutes later, he repeated the same trick with a shot from the opposite flank and came no nearer to finding the net.
Barkley can be a singularly frustrating player, decision-making being his usual downfall, but he was Everton’s driving force here. Only Coleman, a permanently busy presence on the right flank, matched the midfielder’s industry. One of Republic of Ireland international’s many searching crosses found a connection from Lukaku just before the hour mark, but like his compatriot Benteke, he too was off target.
As were Palace as whole, and they had to wait until the 78th minute to force a save from Robles. It was Benteke again, their only real goal threat, who sent a low header towards the goalkeeper’s bottom left. A fast, acrobatic stop made it seem a stronger effort than it truly was and with such a paucity of penetration on display, this game seemed destined for a stalemate.
Yet Coleman was still searching, and he took advantage while the hosts were temporarily down to 10 men. Anthony Taylor, the match referee, chose not to halt play during a period of late intense Everton pressure, despite Schlupp laying stricken with cramp at the opposite end of the field.
As Selhurst Park protested, Davies brilliantly picked out Coleman, who drove through the channel Schlupp would have been protecting, cut into the penalty box and shot high into the roof of Hennessey’s net. While limbs flew in the away end, the home support made use of their middle fingers.
Allardyce was incensed, but the controversial circumstances surrounding Coleman’s goal should be forgotten. Benteke’s two headers aside, his team was impotent. On this display, Palace’s stay in the relegation places may be a long one.
Crystal Palace (3-5-2): Hennessey; Dann, Delaney, Tomkins; Ward, Cabaye (Ledley, 72), Puncheon, McArthur, Schlupp (Townsend, 88); Remy (Lee, 61), Benteke.
Subs not used: Speroni, Kelly, Flamini, Kaikai.
Everton (3-4-2-1): Joel; Holgate, Williams, Funes Mori; Coleman, Barry (Schneiderlin, 59), Davies, Baines; Mirallas (Lookman, 72), Barkley (Jagielka, 90+2); Lukaku.
Subs not used: Stekelenburg, McCarthy, Valencia, Oviedo.
Referee: Anthony Taylor (Greater Manchester)
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