“Spirit of the Blues” has been the anthem of Everton’s spring and the spirit of the blues saved them. Two goals down at the interval, while Burnley led at Villa Park, and with a final-day date at Arsenal, the Championship seemed to beckon.
Then came a seminal, sensational comeback. First Michael Keane, then Richarlison and then Dominic Calvert-Lewin etched their names in Everton history as the men who averted a first relegation since 1951. A troubled, traumatic season will at least finish with Everton still in the Premier League. A night of changing scorelines and fluctuating emotions ended in euphoria. Everton said with disaster and saved themselves.
Perhaps Goodison saved them, as they were roared on to victory. It may come with consequences, with a pitch invasion following Calvert-Lewin’s goal, even though it came with four minutes of regulation time remaining, and another on the final whistle. Crystal Palace, who outclassed their hosts at times, may wonder how they were beaten but Goodison urged Everton on to victory. Urgency, willpower and unity can feel unstoppable.
For Frank Lampard, a rescue mission was completed in symbolic fashion. Things got worse before they got better in Lampard’s reign. So, too, on this occasion. Lampard arguably got his team selection and formation wrong. Yet his changes from him made a difference. Dele Alli contributed to Richarlison’s leveller. Demarai Gray took the free kick that Calvert-Lewin headed in for the winner. Lampard erupted in delight when the striker struck and his name rang around Goodison Park in injury time, chorused by Liverpudlians who have taken a Londoner to their hearts.
There are others, too, men who could have gone down in infamy if they had ended Everton’s 68-year stay in the top flight and who, instead, have played their part in a revival. Keane has had a difficult season but took his goal from him in a manner many a forward could only envy. Scorer and supplier were centre-backs, with Mason Holgate nodding Vitalii Mykolenko’s free kick into the path of Keane, whose first touch was deft and whose second was a precise finish. For Holgate, who got the winner at Leicester, this was another crucial contribution at the other end.
Richarlison has been the talisman of the run-in. Where there is the Brazilian, there is a chance. He had clipped the bar with a first-half free kick. He leveled with a second-half piece of opportunism, digging out a shot after intercepting Joachim Andersen’s attempted clearance following a cross from Alli. Then Wilfried Zaha committed a foul, Gray whipped in a free kick and Calvert-Lewin, who had not scored between August and May, headed in his second goal in as many games. Everton could be grateful, too, to Jordan Pickford, who added to his heroics in recent weeks with a brilliant save from Jean-Philippe Mateta that stopped Palace from going 3-1 up.
Instead, somehow, Patrick Vieira’s team were swept away. They led by capitalizing on Everton’s susceptibility to the aerial ball. When Eberechi Eze whipped in a free kick, Mateta evaded Abdoulaye Doucoure far too easily to head in.
The second showcased Palace’s counter-attacking speed and Everton’s fragility. Seamus Coleman was dispossessed by Mateta and while Pickford clawed away first the striker’s cross and then Zaha’s miscued shot, the ball bounced in off Ayew.
A disastrous first half came amid a tactical mismatch. Everton’s formation, officially 3-4-3, became 5-2-3 at times. It left them outnumbered in midfield and, 40 minutes in and two goals down, Lampard switched to 4-3-3. He sat for Alli at half-time, removing the utterly ineffectual Andre Gomes. It was a bold call to take off their season’s breakthrough star, Anthony Gordon, for Gray but it was justified. Lampard bounced for joy at the end amid an extraordinary atmosphere.
It had been remarkable initially. There was the now familiar Goodison welcome of flares and blue smoke. Deafening at the start, the noise gave way to fraught tension and depressed silence. Then, suddenly, there was optimism, defiance and joy. Goodison ended up rocking, more of the crowd seemingly on the grass than in the stands. A wake became a celebration, one of the worst nights this famous ground had witnessed becoming one they will savor for years, if not decades.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.