Belfast Telegraph

Martinez blames Everton's fears as Palace take flight

Everton 2 Crystal Palace 3

BY Phil Medlicott

Everton's top-four hopes suffered a blow as they crashed to a surprise 3-2 defeat at Goodison Park against Crystal Palace, whose Barclays Premier League survival now appears assured.

The Toffees had been looking to take the opportunity to leapfrog Arsenal into fourth place in the race for Champions League football.

But instead they remain fifth - a point behind the Gunners, with both clubs having four more games to go – after they were undone by a Palace side who were worthy victors of an absorbing contest.

Everton boss Roberto Martinez said: "It's a real disappointment, a result which is hurtful. The first half we were fearful, the way we conceded the first goal shows that. They didn't have the threat to score three goals. We conceded bad goals.

"The reaction in the second half was ourselves, that was perfect and we were unfortunate not to get something. But we get ready for the next four games.

"They scored three goals from four shots on target. The breaks went Palace's way and we congratulate them. They were clinical.

"We wanted to win so much that we stopped being ourselves and that is what we have to learn from. We will try and get as many points as we can, it doesn't change anything. We have had a magnificent season and we have incredible potential in this squad."

The result, Everton's first home loss since Boxing Day and only their second all season, brought their seven-match top-flight winning streak to an end.

Palace's own run of victories, meanwhile, extended to four games as they moved up to 11th, on to 40 points – the total widely regarded as a guarantee of safety – and 10 points clear of the relegation zone.

Tony Pulis' men deservedly went in at half-time with a 1-0 lead thanks to Jason Puncheon's strike from Marouane Chamakh's assist in the 23rd minute after Tim Howard had parried a cross from Yannick Bolasie.

The dangerous Bolasie then provided the corner from which Scott Dann sent a free header past Howard four minutes after the interval to make it 2-0.

Substitute Steven Naismith reduced the deficit with a close-range finish in the 61st minute, but Cameron Jerome restored Palace's two-goal cushion in the 73rd.

Kevin Mirallas' effort with four minutes of normal time remaining then set up a nervy finale as the Toffees desperately pushed for an equaliser, but the Belgian spurned a great-looking opportunity in stoppage time, which Palace managed to come through with their lead intact and another vital three points secured.

Pulis said: "It was an excellent performance from us throughout this evening.

"The only thing that was disappointing was the two goals we conceded but we played some good stuff tonight and we always thought if we could move the ball quickly we could score some goals.

"The whole basis of every team I have ever been at is to make sure we have a solid base to give us something to work on.

"I think we are safe but my first game when we went to Hull we had four points so to get to 40 points is a fantastic achievement for this group of players.

"But we owe it to the Premier League to remain competitive until the end of the season and we want to finish the season strongly and get as many points as we can."

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