Frank Lampard described Everton’s dramatic Premier League survival as one of the greatest moments of his career after Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s 85th minute winner completed a stunning comeback against Crystal Palace.
Everton trailed Patrick Vieira’s team 2-0 at half-time and looked destined for a fraught relegation fight at Arsenal on the final day. But a stirring second-half recovery, capped by the England international’s late diving header, preserved the club’s 68-year top-flight residence in remarkable style.
The victory sparked a huge pitch invasion at Goodison Park. The celebrations were largely peaceful, certainly in comparison to the ugly scenes at Nottingham Forest and Port Vale, but Vieira appeared to kick out at an Everton fan who goaded him after the final whistle. The Palace manager declined to comment on the incident afterwards.
Lampard, however, ended the night celebrating in front of jubilant Evertonians while standing on the roof of an executive box. “It is one of the greatest moments of my footballing life and career,” the Everton manager said. “I have been very fortunate to have amazing times, especially at Chelsea as a player and a coach. But when you feel the feelings and desperation of what relegation brings to the table, it is different. You need to dig in. You lose games, you fight to do something and then you lose another game. People think you should fly up the table and it is never that way.
“Coming in here three and a half months ago with my amazing staff, positive people who work so hard, and trying to affect things and getting a reaction from the players, from the fans and feeling unity when it looked split. This club is special and I am proud to be manager of Everton on this night.
“I am full of thanks tonight; thanks to the fans for taking me on board, to the board for taking me on at a difficult time when we appeared to be going in the wrong direction, and to the players. That was down to the players.”
Lampard’s half-time introduction of Dele Alli helped turn the game in Everton’s favour. The nature of the comeback, and the stakes involved, produced an emotional outpouring on the final whistle.
The Everton manager added: “I thought I might cry [at full time], I thought I might jump out of my body. Nobody can question the celebrations at the end.
“It is easy to say: ‘But you haven’t won anything.’ You know what, come and work at this club for a few months and see the difficulties and what it means to people to stay in this league.
“See us 2-0 down at half-time, playing poorly, ridiculous second goal and then see the character they showed. See the fans on the pitch in good heart and spirit. They have pulled us over the line, they have been more than a 12th man.
“But the players also deserve huge credit. An amazing night. Dele was brilliant when he came on. He changed the game individually. We had already changed the system but it was to give a little bit of information.
“It was nothing to do with a system change to change the game, it was always going to be the players, their character and desire to engage the crowd and make something happen.
“I can’t take too much credit. I didn’t come up with some new magical tactics. We went direct, but no problem in this position. But we relied on the players.”
On the pitch invasion itself Lampard said: “It was pure elation of fans who have come on the pitch after avoiding relegation. If it is done in the right way let them stay on the pitch, let them have their moment. As long as they behave, no problem.”
Vieira was deeply unhappy with Palace’s second half display, his team having silenced the Goodison crowd to lead through Jean-Philippe Mateta and Jordan Ayew after 45 minutes.
“All that changed was that we didn’t respect the game as well as we did in the first half,” the Palace manager said. “We were inviting too much pressure and we didn’t move the ball quick enough and allowed them to build that momentum and confidence. It is about managing the game when winning 2-0 and we didn’t do that well enough in the second half. We gave them hope and when we invited pressure they scored one goal, two goals, three goals – when we conceded that first goal it made it difficult for us.”