Everton 1 Crystal Palace 1
Everton’s impressive start to the season is in danger of fizzling out. They avoided a third consecutive defeat here, but were only able to score through a set piece and Crystal Palace will be bitterly disappointed at seeing a perfectly valid potential winner wrongly chalked off in the second half.
The visitors were worth at least a point, playing a neat counterattacking game and coming back strongly after Everton had taken a first-half lead. Ronald Koeman said Everton would have to show more aggression and intensity if they were to return to second place in the table, and if that was the aim his players failed to produce.
Romelu Lukaku was too isolated to be effective after his goal direct from a free-kick, Yannick Bolasie did not stand out against his former club and Ross Barkley had another of his wayward days, being withdrawn before the end as Koeman looked for more penetration.
Palace enjoyed an early reprieve when Damien Delaney upended Bryan Oviedo in the area for what looked a certain penalty, before play was brought back for a raised offside flag.
Oviedo found himself cautioned at the other end within a couple of minutes for a fairly obvious foul on Wilfried Zaha, the defender protesting in vain that he had been caught off-guard by an inadvertent deflection off the referee. Everton had the better of the opening quarter, forcing a succession of corners without managing to cause the visiting defence any problems, while Palace looked dangerous on the break with Zaha and Andros Townsend constantly swapping wings. All the attention was on Yannick Bolasie, appearing against his old club, and a couple of surging runs caught the eye, though Ross Barkley could have done a lot better when Lukaku invited him to charge through the middle.
Barkley had options either side and a retreating defence in front of him, yet wasted a good position with an attempted shot from an optimistic distance.
Everton were slightly fortunate to go ahead just past the half hour. There was nothing wrong with Lukaku's left-foot curler from a free-kick on the edge of the area that left Steve Mandanda barely bothering to move, just a question of whether it should have been an Everton free-kick. Delaney was a little harshly penalised for foot up when in fact Phil Jagielka had dived low to attempt to head a ball that was at eminently kickable height. While it was typically brave by the Everton captain the Palace captain was entitled to feel a little aggrieved.
The decision could have gone either way and Palace might even complain that Jagielka had handled, although he only raised his hands to protect himself from a boot in the face.
At least the goal brought some life to what was becoming a dull and scrappy contest. Everton's confidence improved noticeably once they were in front, though Palace reached the interval without further damage apart from a booking for James Tomkins for pulling Bolasie over.
When the stadium announcer introduced the highlights of the first half on the Goodison big screen during the interval, the footage comprised of Lukaku’s goal and nothing else. Harsh but fair. Little else in the first 45 minutes stood out in the memory.
That situation changed five minutes after the break when Christian Benteke brought Palace back level with a superb headed goal. Joel Ward did well to pick him out at the far post with a diagonal cross, but there was not much pace on the ball and Benteke was a fair way from goal with a lot of work still to do. He managed to make it look easy, first getting ahead of Seamus Coleman and timing his leap to perfection, then placing a header perfectly across Maarten Stekelenburg and into the goalkeeper's bottom corner.
Everton attempted to hit back through a strong Bolasie break, but though he squared the ball unselfishly across the area Idrissa Gueye's shot was blocked by Martin Kelly.
Then Palace and their captain were unlucky for the second time in the evening when Delaney rose to head another excellent Ward cross into the net, only to be wrongly adjudged offside. Replays showed Tomkins in an offside position at the back of a pack of Palace players when the ball was kicked, but he was not interfering and Delaney himself was onside all the time.
At least there was a bit of noise and fervour in the stadium now, with the game finely poised. Jason Puncheon had to clear off his own line when Gareth Barry got the faintest touch to a corner at one end, Stekelenburg had to punch clear under pressure from Joe Ledley following a free- kick at the other, but neither side was able to claim a decider.