Goals from Marc Guehi, Jean-Philippe Mateta, Wilfried Zaha and Will Hughes booked Crystal Palace’s place in the FA Cup semi-final with a 4-0 win against Premier League side Everton yesterday.
The Eagles will take on Chelsea at Wembley in the next stage of the competition. It’s the first time they have reached this point of the FA Cup since the 2015-16 season under Alan Pardew.
Here are Edmund Brack’s four takeaways from Selhurst Park:
NERVY START FROM PALACE AS OCCASION THREATENED TO GET TO THE PLAYERS
While Selhurst Park was rocking on its hinges before the match, Everton’s intense start threatened to silence the home fans, shock the Eagles and derail their cup run.
With just a minute on the clock, Michael Keane found himself unmarked and in front of Jack Butland’s goal. His finish resembled that of a defender who had too much time to think about the chance. Everton’s centre-back snatched at the ball and placed his effort wide.
While VAR would have ruled the goal out for offside, it was a rude awakening that should have shocked Palace into life.
But less than 40 seconds later, Marc Guehi nearly gifted Everton the opener when Richarlison closed down the 21-year-old’s heavy touch. Guehi, called up to Gareth Southgate’s England squad for the first time in midweek, executed a brilliant recovery challenge to spare his blushes.
After registering only eight touches in Everton’s half in the first 17 minutes, the game eventually swung in Palace’s favour when Frank Lampard was forced to take Andros Townsend off.
PROFESSIONAL, CLINICAL AND DONE IN STYLE
Those 70 minutes following the stoppage of play to help Townsend off the pitch on Sunday was worthy of a semi-final spot.
There is an embarrassment of riches up top, with Mateta, Eze, Zaha, Michael Olise and Conor Gallagher forming a potent front five that put Everton to the sword with clinical conviction and swashbuckling swagger.
Guehi released the tension bubbling inside the stadium with a glancing header from a devilish Olise corner to give the Eagles the lead.
Mateta, who has shown he is an astute finisher when afforded a sight of goal, gave Palace breathing room in the 41st minute with a ruthless strike to turn home a move started by Eze and Zaha.
Zaha scored a deserved third when he rolled home Olise’s shot that looped off the post, and Will Hughes started the carnival atmosphere, which allowed even the most sceptical fans to join in with the Wembley chants, with his fourth in the 87th minute.
This is Crystal Palace’s best squad in its history – highlighted by Vieira’s ability to call Odsonne Edouard, Christian Benteke and Will Hughes from the bench is a luxury.
And to hand Eberechi Eze a start in a game of this magnitude, considering he is still far from the peak of his powers after his Achilles injury, showed the superior squad depth waiting to make an impact.
Nathaniel Clyne has come in from the cold and made the right-back spot his own, and Jack Butland continued his cup duties and looked assured throughout.
MATETA KEEPS SPEARHEADING THE SIDE
The negotiations to reduce Mateta’s transfer fee agreed with Mainz from a deal worth in the region of £13million to around £8million appears savvier by the game at the minute.
While I had my reservations about the French forward and questioned whether he had the ability to bring others into play, hound opposition defences into mistakes and was the right choice to lead the Crystal Palace line, he continues to prove me wrong.
With a run of games firmly under his belt and his top-flight experience growing by the minute, Mateta’s all-around game has been crucial for Crystal Palace’s six-game unbeaten run and the 4-0 win on Sunday.
His link-up play, back-to-goal work and physical presence to draw opposition defences out of position brings the exceptional talent around him into the game.
PALACE WILL BE UNDERDOGS, BUT THEY HAVE UNFINISHED BUSINESS IN THIS COMPETITION
Despite being the lowest-ranked team left in the competition and having to bypass Chelsea without Conor Gallagher, Palace’s squad have shown throughout the Premier League campaign that they have the ability to take on any side on their day.
With Chelsea having to squeeze Palace in after their Champions League quarter-final second-leg, and the Eagles Premier League safety all but secure, the full attention should be on trying to find a way past Thomas Tuchel’s side.
The Eagles also have unfinished business in this competition – Wilfried Zaha, James McArthur and Joel Ward all remain from the 2015-16 final loss.
But with internationals across the squad, Olise showing he is consistently fearless no matter what defence he is up against, and confidence surging in every corner of the club, the is no reason why Palace can’t dare to dream.
PICTURES: KEITH GILLARD