This may be the beginning of the end for Everton. Games against Manchester United and Manchester City looked to be potential pitfalls on the horizon, but it was Tony Pulis' Crystal Palace who perhaps struck the deadliest blow as they got a deserved 3-2 victory at Goodison Park.
Jason Puncheon put the visitors ahead in the first half to stun the Blue half of Merseyside, before Scott Dann added a second after halftime. Steven Naismith looked to get Everton back into the game with a goal after coming off the bench, but Cameron Jerome scored a killer third to half Everton's comeback in its tracks. Kevin Mirallas scored a second for the hosts, but it was not enough and Palace held on for a remarkable victory.
Everton and Crystal Palace both got onto strong starts, settling quickly into their rhythms and asking questions of one another. Ross Barkley had a halfhearted penalty appeal for the hosts early on, but there was minimal contact as the youngster went down.
Yet Everton then suffered disaster as Palace began to grow into the game more and more. Yannick Bolasie's cross was fisted away by Tim Howard, before Marouane Chamakh teed up Jason Puncheon to slot a precise shot home and stun Goodison Park.
Palace were continuing to threaten, with Bolasie continuing to give Leighton Baines the runaround, and he almost had another hand in a goal when he cut inside and rattled the woodwork with a ferocious drive. Everton were offering little themselves too, although did force Julian Speroni into a fine save when Barkley created an opening for Romelu Lukaku.
The Palace attacks were not halted by the halftime whistle, however, and Pulis' men continued to threaten after halftime, immediately having a penalty shout through Joel Ward before Joe Ledley forced Tim Howard into a save. And just a couple of minutes later, Everton looked doomed -- terrible marking from a corner allowed Scott Dann to nod in from close range and leave the Toffees' Champions League hopes in peril.
Steven Naismith was introduced by Roberto Martinez just before, and he continued his fine form in the run-in by bringing Everton back into the game, scuffing the ball over the line from Baines' header after Kevin Mirallas whipped the initial ball in. The effect was significant for both teams as Everton began to dominate afterwards.
Aiden McGeady thundered one dipping long-range effort wide, before Mirallas and Leon Osman both missed good chances too. It seemed only a matter of time before Palace crumbled, with the visitors barely holding out, but there was to be another twist.
On an increasingly-rare attack, Puncheon showed more skill to help tee up Cameron Jerome, who held off the attention of the Everton defense to curl an effort into the bottom corner and leave the hosts facinga calamitous defeat.
Everton still tried to flood forward, and Barkley weaved his way into the area before letting fly, but was denied by the excellent Speroni's outstretched heel. Yet with eight minutes remaining, Mirallas, probably Everton's brightest player, gave them yet another route back into the match. Barkley's pass took a deflection off Ward and landed invitingly at the feet of the Belgian, who made no mistake to set up a tense finale.
Palace were doing well to smother the Everton defense in the dying minutes, but almost suffered a late equalizer when Mirallas saw the ball bounce invitingly for him in the area, but as he struggled to hold off his marker, he kicked thin air twice before finally going down amid a chorus of ignored penalty claims. It proved to be the last clear chance for Everton, who have now left the battle for fourth in Arsenal's hands.
Everton: Howard, Coleman, Stones, Distin, Baines, Barry (Osman 59'), Mirallas, Barkley, Deulofeu (Naismith 46'), McGeady (McCarthy 59'), Lukaku
Goals: Naismith (61'), Mirallas (86')
Crystal Palace: Speroni, Mariappa (Parr 68'), Delaney, Dann, Ward, Jedinak, Ledley, Bolasie, Puncheon, Chamakh (Murray 80'), Jerome.
Goals: Puncheon (23'), Dann ('49), Jerome (73')