These are the wins that could define the season for Everton.
The Blues have been impressive in their first two Premier League matches this term in different ways. Their domination of the ball against Tottenham Hotspur and attacking verve against West Bromwich Albion caught the eye most.
However, taking three points away from home against Crystal Palace could well be the kind of performance and result that can set the tone for the rest of the campaign.
This, arguably, was the day Everton showed off some of the most important qualities they will need to achieve their lofty ambitions.
Everton have played better football this term, that much is clear. In terms of attacking intent, it was clear the visitors still had something in the tank to give.
That was particularly apparent in the second-half as Carlo Ancelotti watched his side on the back foot. Crystal Palace took a stranglehold on the game and were desperately looking for that equaliser.
But Everton stood firm. They kept their shape and the chances the hosts created were not exactly clear-cut.
In fact, if Dominic Calvert-Lewin had got a better connection from one particular James Rodriguez corner, the visitors could have been home and dry earlier than they were.
The difference in the second period was a true show of heart from Everton. A ‘spirit’ was what Ancelotti called it after the game.
Despite the hosts dominating the ball and knocking on the door there was no way through.
Everyone on the pitch took on their defensive responsibilities in the second-half and made it as difficult as they possibly could for a resurgent Palace to find a way through.
Particularly in midfield, things turned into a real battle. There was hardly any time in possession yet Everton were up to the task.
The second 45 minutes were nervy but, at the same time, not many clear cut chances were conceded.
Giving away free-kicks around the edge of the box will still be a concern, and some moments the pressure did seem to build when attempting to play out from the back.
But Everton battled hard when not playing at their best to seal an important three points.
If they do have ambitions of European football, it’s these performances and results that will make the difference.
Last season, the Blues likely would have picked up one point from that match at best. This time, they fought with everything they could muster.
Handed the opportunity
Well, we’ve got to talk about THE incident.
As the first half was drawing to a close, with Everton having been pegged back by Cheikhou Kouyate’s header following an opener for Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Lucas Digne’s effort was blocked by Joel Ward.
The Palace defender had survived a penalty shout for handball earlier in the half, but this one prompted the VAR to suggest referee Kevin Friend go over to the pitchside monitor and have another look.
The official pointed to the spot, Richarlison converted with aplomb, and the hosts were left to rue the decision after the game – with Roy Hodgson particularly angry with the new handball law.
And that’s where the debate really centres, around the wording of the law itself rather than the decision taken by either the on-field referee or VAR.
At the end of the day, those officials can only judge each incident against the rules they are given.
By the letter of the law, that was a penalty to Everton. It would have been the same at the other end of the pitch, as Palace of course found out when they got a similar decision in their favour last week against Manchester United.
To be fair to Hodgson he criticised the law at that time too, and it’s little doubt that there will be more handball-related controversy as the season goes on.
A certain section of Everton supporters agreed that you don’t want to see penalties such as that one given. Further down the line, the law could well work against the Blues in the same way it has helped give them three points this time around.
But Everton felt aggrieved on multiple occasions from various VAR decisions last season. In many respects, this feels like the tables have finally turned in their favour for just this one occasion.
This is an incident that the Premier League’s lawmakers must take very seriously though. If so many people disagree with the rule as it stands, there is clearly a problem with it.
In essence it was the right decision on the day and that should be made clear.
But, in the future, how long will this rule really stand? Surely not for long.
Right place, right time
Three Premier League games, five goals for Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
He just can’t stop finding the back of the net at the minute, even though he could possibly have even ended up with more to his name by the end of this one.
But in general this is exactly the progression Evertonians have always wanted to see from the striker, who is still learning his trade while leading the line for Ancelotti.
In the third Premier League match of last term, Calvert-Lewin was handed a golden opportunity to score against Aston Villa but missed the target when it looked easier to steer the ball home.
At that stage, who would have imagined the striker would be playing as well as he is now?
Last season, the striker didn’t reach five Premier League goals until he bagged a double against Chelsea in December – which incidentally kicked off his fantastic run of form.
That match against Frank Lampard’s side was his 14th league appearance of the season in 2019/20. This time around, he didn’t even need four games to reach the same total.
And it’s clear to see the effect that his form is having not only on him, but with his teammates as well.
Take the assist that set up his goal, for example. It was a lovely move from Everton even before Seamus Coleman was played in behind the defence expertly by James Rodriguez, and now it was down to the captain to find that final pass.
The Republic of Ireland international hardly needed to look up to know exactly where Calvert-Lewin would be. He played it to the edge of the six yard box and there his teammate was to sweep the ball home.
It wasn’t the best finish of his career, but it was a true striker’s goal. Just as his hat trick against West Bromwich Albion last weekend was.
Teammates have a trust that if they create a chance inside the box, odds are the striker will be there to make sure the ball hits the back of the net.
Calvert-Lewin is turning into a real presence inside the opposition area, ready to pounce on any opportunity and causing an all-new headache for defenders.
A year ago, he was a striker that would give centre-backs a good physical battle and work hard for the team, but probably wouldn’t get his name on the scoresheet.
He’s added that last important quality to his game now.
Why should I sign up?
Carlo Ancelotti’s Everton are looking to kick on and another crucial summer is underway at Goodison Park.
Marcel Brands will be a busy man as he looks to strengthen Everton’s squad in the transfer window.
Sign up to our EFC newsletter for all the best coverage of the Toffees from Phil Kirkbride, Adam Jones and the rest of the ECHO team.
You’ll get breaking transfer news, analysis, rumours, live coverage and much more.
Head of Sport Dave Prentice will also be sending a bespoke weekly newsletter with his thoughts on the Toffees and more.
How do I sign up?
It’s free, easy and takes no time at all.
- First just click on this link to our newsletter sign-up centre.
- Once you’re there, put your email address where it says at the top, then click on the Everton FC newsletter. There are other ones too if you want them as well.
- When you’ve made your choice, press the Update Preference button at the bottom.
That’s it! Your emails will come through to your inbox from that moment on. It’s that simple.
Important matches continue
This season doesn’t get any less important for Everton.
The more the Blues continue to pick up points and secure wins, the feeling around subsequent matches naturally grows.
There’s hardly a chance for the Blues to celebrate sitting at the top of the Premier League following their win before thoughts must return to the Carabao Cup and a tie against West Ham.
In many ways, that could be the best thing for Everton. Ancelotti wants his side to be focused at all times, and a constant run of matches might be the best way to achieve that.
Two home matches are on the horizon before the international break and the Blues have a real chance to head into the break on a high.
Everton can be concerned about their position in the table at the end of the season, not now.
Right now, results in all competitions are all that matters.