Frank Lampard hailed his team’s fighting spirit after Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s diving header five minutes from time extended Everton’s proud 71-year stay in the top flight with a 3-2 victory over Crystal Palace on a night for the ages at Goodison Park.
Needing a victory to make themselves safe and avoid an awkward last-day trip to top-four-chasing Arsenal, the situation looked bleak when they went 2-0 down inside 36 minutes.
But manager Frank Lampard’s tactical changes, plus the sheer emotion and force of a raucous crowd, dramatically turned things around in the second half as first Michael Keane and then Richarlison, with his sixth in nine games, teed up a rousing finale.
And with the stage set, Calvert-Lewin – fresh from scoring his first goal since August in Saturday’s defeat to Brentford – launched himself at a free-kick and watched as the Gwladys Street End behind the goal exploded, followed by the rest of the ground.
Lampard said: “What we’ve just seen, it’s Premier League safety, it’s not Champions League. But what it means to the club and circumstances they were given in. The character of this club, the fans, players, just got us through. The spirit of the club was immense.
“There are a lot of people who work so hard for that, the players, the board, the fans, my staff. It’s a huge night for Everton and now we want to take that forward.”
The calamitous nature of their defending which allowed Jean-Philippe Mateta and Jordan Ayew to put the visitors into a deserved two-goal lead was forgotten on a night of celebration and relief at the final whistle as Lampard’s name was chanted by all four sides of this old ground.
[Staying up] means so much to the club and given the circumstances of being 2-0 down. People won’t forget this. Evertonians won’t forget it. They will say this is Everton but to actually do it. This is a special night.
When asked what was said at half-time, Lampard added: “If you’re honest you have to fake it, act a bit. Not show your feelings. You have to turn people and inspire them. Dele Alli came on and was amazing.
“My point was it’s not the tactical change, it’s the emotions and the character. Can you energise the crowd and score an early goal? Then it’s the energy, the players deserve immense credit.
“If we don’t get that first goal, it’s difficult to win. I expected Burnley to get something. That goal was crucial, once it went in you felt the players, and the night, there was something special there. The crowd reacted, we created a special night in Everton’s history.
“We needed the fans tonight and at 2-0 it was easy to expect the worst. But they’ve been doing it for a long time, since the Chelsea game. After the Burnley defeat, it was difficult. Again, the atmosphere was another level, and it was great to see them on the pitch. We don’t condone it but it was in such good faith.
They want success and when they see a team giving it they react instantly. Those moments were priceless. Relegation battles are tough and an experience in their own right, the support I’ve had from the owner, chairman, Denise [Barrett-Baxendale] and what the fans have brought in is hard to do.
“Everyone can see the heart and the soul of the team, that’s why we stayed up. When I arrived at the club there were cracks, now it’s time to restock and learn. There’s a reason why we’re here.”
Crystal Palace boss Patrick Vieira was filmed in an altercation with an Everton fan on the pitch at Goodison Park during the post-match pitch invasion.
Vieira was walking across the pitch towards his team’s dressing room at the other side of the ground when an Everton fan approached him, prompting a reaction from the Palace boss.
Vieira was asked about it in his post-match press conference and said: “I’ve got nothing to say about that.”
Sky Sports News has attempted to contact Crystal Palace and Everton for comment on the incident. The FA has also been contacted for comment.
Vieira’s counterpart Lampard offered his support.
“I feel for Patrick,” he said. “I didn’t get him at the end. I would have said, ‘come in with us’ – although he might not have wanted that.
“Of course he ran 80 yards across the pitch and it’s not easy.”
On the pitch invasion itself Lampard said: “It was pure elation of fans who have come on the pitch after avoiding relegation. Let them have their moment.
“If it’s done in the right way, and there aren’t scenes like we had the other night, let them run onto the pitch. That’s what is football is about. What are we going to do? Handcuff them to the seats? So long as they behave themselves, no problem.”
Everton travel to Arsenal and Crystal Palace host Manchester United on the final day of the Premier League season on Sunday at 4pm.