Everton were stunned at home in their pursuit of a UEFA Champions League place by a shock 3-2 defeat to Crystal Palace.
After Arsenal’s victory over West Ham United on Tuesday, momentum swung back towards the Gunners in the eventful race for fourth place in the Barclays Premier League as Everton failed to match their rivals.
The Goodison Park fans would have been expecting an eighth straight home win in the top flight, but Palace had not read the script, with goals from Jason Puncheon, Scott Dann and Cameron Jerome earning them only a fourth away win of the season.
Palace looked dangerous throughout a frenetic game, in which Everton never got into top gear, and they took a deserved first-half lead through the in-form Puncheon, who notched his seventh goal of the season.
The advantage was doubled shortly after half-time by Dann's powerful header before substitute Steven Naismith halved the arrears with plenty of time remaining.
But Jerome's strike after 73 minutes re-established the two-goal cushion, and although a late Kevin Mirallas strike set up a nervy finish, Everton could not find a way back.
The hosts - who made three changes as part of an attacking line-up, with Ross Barkley, Mirallas and Aiden McGeady all starting - forced the pace from the off, with Gareth Barry stooping to head over from a Leighton Baines corner in the first minute.
Palace, though, soaked up Everton's early pressure and they looked dangerous on the break themselves.
They went closest to breaking the deadlock in the opening stages when, after 20 minutes, Jerome found space unmarked in the penalty area, but his header from Joe Ledley's cross flashed narrowly over the crossbar.
The visitors made their pressure count after 23 minutes when Tim Howard could only parry Yannick Bolasie's right-wing cross. The ball fell to Puncheon, who finished neatly from 10 yards for his fourth goal in the last three games.
It was nearly 2-0 before the interval when a breakaway saw Bolasie hit the base of the post from 30 yards, and an unbalanced Jerome could only put the rebound wide.
Romelu Lukaku then diverted a Barkley cut-back on goal, but Julian Speroni dived smartly to push the ball wide.
Ledley forced a fine save from Howard two minutes into the second half, but from the resulting corner defender Dann's powerful downward header stunned the home crowd as it beat the unsighted goalkeeper to double Palace's lead.
McGeady almost responded immediately when his fierce 30-yard strike bent narrowly wide of Speroni's left-hand post, but half-time substitute Naismith was able to pull Everton back into the match when he converted from close range after Baines had headed a deep Mirallas cross into his path after 61 minutes.
Mirallas then nearly equalised when he met a dipping cross from Baines at the back post, but with 17 minutes left Puncheon was again the architect with superb close control on the edge of the box, sliding the ball into Jerome, who curled into the bottom corner.
Everton refused to lay down even then, and with four minutes left Barkley's through-ball was deflected into the path of Mirallas, who rounded Speroni and fired home.
But despite another late chance for the Belgian forward, who mis-kicked with the goal at his mercy, Everton could not find a way back as Palace hung on to effectively end any lingering fears of relegation, and simultaneously blow the race for fourth place in the Barclays Premier League wide open. Defeat for the Blues leaves them a point behind Arsenal with four matches remaining for both sides.
Everton manager Roberto Martinez: "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 out of the game. 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."
Crystal Palace manager Tony Pulis: "It was an excellent performance from us today. 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."
|03 May 2014||v Man City (H)|
|11 May 2014||v Hull (A)|
|26 Apr 2014||v Southampton (A)|
|20 Apr 2014||v Man Utd (H)|
|20 Dec 2014||v Southampton (A)|
|26 Dec 2014||v Everton (H)|