Tired, jaded and leggy are the kind of adjectives you would typically expect to explain away a Premier League defeat the weekend following extra European commitments.
In Everton’s case against Crystal Palace, calamity, careless and sloppy seem far more appropriate. And in truth, Roberto Martinez has frequently lamented those aspects of his side’s displays this season even without the distraction of midweek Europa League matches.
It’s far too simplistic to point to the after-effects of a 4-1 home win over Wolfsburg last Thursday as the reason behind this loss to Neil Warnock’s side, who capitalised on mistakes and were superb on the counter-attack.
Everton’s defensive problems appear much more deeply rooted and alarmingly in evidence in all but one of their matches this season. The Toffees have now conceded 13 goals in five Premier League matches and it is an issue Martinez must solve if they want to match what they achieved in the previous campaign.
Last season at Goodison Park Everton lost by the same scoreline to Palace and there was a sense that result was a one-off, but perhaps it was an early warning sign.
“There is something spooky about it, we made three individual errors and it’s hard to swallow,” Martinez said, in attempting to explain Everton’s defensive woes.
“We didn’t have that concentration. It doesn’t matter how many games you play in a week you need to perform to the highest level.”
Martinez fielded arguably his strongest team for that victory over Wolfsburg – who probably created as many chances as Palace but were not as clinical – in their opening Europa League group game.
As a result he made five changes to his starting line-up against Palace, including first starts for Samuel Eto’o and on-loan Chelsea winger Christian Atsu in a rejigged 4-3-3 system.
Seamus Coleman’s absence, however, was enforced, with the defender still recovering from a bang on the head sustained against the Bundesliga outfit and replaced by fit-again Slyvain Distin with John Stones moved to right-back.
Any fears the Toffees might have begun sluggishly after their Europa League exertions were answered with a high-tempo start brimming with energy.
Early on the impressive Atsu, fleet of foot and quick of mind on his debut, jinked his way into the penalty area only to strike the side netting from a tight angle.
The hosts unlocked the Palace defence again in the ninth minute after with a slick move that saw the tireless James McCarthy slide a ball into the feet of Leon Osman who in turn cleverly flicked it on for Romelu Lukaku.
The Belgium striker raced clear of the Palace backline and, with just the outrushing Julian Speroni to beat, fired a low finish into the corner of the net.
“We wanted to start sharp, be bright and do everything we did with the ball,” Martinez said. “We looked fresh and the team who had seven days to prepare.”
But, it’s not in attack that Everton currently have any issues. Just before the half-hour mark Palace were awarded a penalty after the concentration of the Everton players slipped for a few seconds and was duly punished.
Tim Howard, Stones and Distin were all guilty of indecisiveness as they left the ball to one another and a combination of the three upended James McArthur, who had gamely chased a near lost cause.
Referee Michael Oliver pointed to the spot and Palace skipper Mile Jedinak confidently arrowed the ball into the top right corner.
“We have to deal with that situation a lot better,” Martinez acknowledged.
With Palace back on level terms, the defensive indecisiveness which has plagued Everton so far reared its head again nine minutes after the interval.
Howard, usually so dependable, misjudged an attempt to claim Martin Kelly’s high cross and the ball struck the back of Fraizer Campbell’s head and looped into the net.
Palace increased their advantage when Osman, dozing in possession, had his pocket picked by Jason Puncheon who teed up Yannick Bolasie, Everton’s tormentor when the side’s met here in April, to curl home.
Leighton Baines reduced the deficit from the penalty spot with seven minutes of normal time remaining after McCarthy had been fouled by Scott Dann to set up a dramatic finale. But, despite late chances for Lukaku and substitute Kevin Mirallas, Everton were unable to haul themselves back on level terms to leave Warnock ebullient.
“I thought we deserved to win it,” reflected the Palace boss. “I thought we had the ammunition to hurt them and it gives us a bit of belief for the season now.
“Every fixture in the league is winnable. Teams like ourselves, Leicester and West Brom showed we can go home and away and give a good account of ourselves.”
EVERTON (4-3-3): Howard 4; Stones 5 (Mirallas 64;6), Jagielka 5, Distin 5 (Gibson 84; 6), Baines 7; Osman 5, McCarthy 7, Barry 6; Atsu 8 (Naismith 64; 7), Eto’o 6, Lukaku 7.
CRYSTAL PALACE (4-5-1): Speroni 7; Kelly 6, Dann 5, Delaney 7, Ward 6; Puncheon 7, McArthur 7 (Guedioura 84; 6), Jedinak 7, Ledley 5, Bolasie 7 (Fryers 87; 6), Campbell 7 (Doyle 86; 6).
Referee: Michael Oliver.