Hodgson blames ‘nonsense’ rule as Everton penalty sinks Crystal Palace | Football

Briefly and improbably, Everton are top of the Premier League. They got there not by clerical error or through a sudden and unexplained vaporisation of all the teams beginning with letters from A to D, but by winning their third game in a row: a greasy, hard-fought, relentlessly entertaining arm wrestle at a drenched and freezing Selhurst Park.

They were the better team, the more ambitious team, the more attractive team, and yet they still largely owed their win to the butterfly wings of VAR: Richarlison’s first-half penalty being awarded for a painfully harsh handball against Joel Ward.

“A nonsense ruining the game of football,” was how Roy Hodgson haughtily described the decision, a messy interpretation of a botched handball rule to which some are clearly adapting quicker than others.

Carlo Ancelotti did not agree with the new rule either but he did not seem overly perturbed. In any case, he was preoccupied not just by Everton’s third league win but a third way of winning. If Tottenham was all style and West Brom was all spark, then this was all sweat: as Palace wrenched up the pressure in the second half, Everton’s defence gritted its teeth and resisted.

At the other end Dominic Calvert-Lewin notched his fifth goal of the season and is playing about as well as he has ever done: strong, clinical and – most important of all for a lone striker – patient.

Perhaps a good part of Hodgson’s anger stemmed from the fact that his team surrendered their 100% record without playing badly. Palace were more compact than they were at Old Trafford last Saturday but mostly defended well. Eberechi Eze made an encouraging debut on the left wing after his £20m move from QPR. The set-piece delivery of Andros Townsend was a constant threat.

But it was Everton who controlled the ball and largely controlled the game, with their superior technique and quick switches of play. It was just such a switch that led to their opening goal, Séamus Coleman picking up Andre Gomes’s long ball on the right, receiving James Rodríguez’s delicious return past and squaring for Calvert-Lewin to finish.

Against the run of play, Palace hit back on 26 minutes. Townsend, who had been obsessively practising his inswinging corners during the warm-up, produced a delightful delivery into Jordan Pickford’s corridor of uncertainty, Cheikhou Kouyaté scoring with a haymaker of a header at the back post.

Richarlison fires home from the penalty spot to put Everton 2-1 up at Selhurst Park. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/NMC Pool/The Observer

Around 10 minutes later, Lucas Digne tried to head the ball into the path of Richarlison, only for the ball to flick Ward’s hand on its way through. Play continued. Palace had an attack. Everton won the ball back. Autumn turned to winter.

Joe Biden won the presidential election. Random parts of Greenland continued to melt into the Arctic Ocean. Ward retired and grew old. Humanity itself finally perished in the second great conflagration. At which point Kevin Friend brought play back, studied the video screen and awarded Everton a penalty. Richarlison, by now a wizened, shrivelled stack of bones and rags, tucked it into the top corner.

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All Ward could do, really, was laugh. His hand had been in an entirely natural position at the side of his body. He had not moved towards the ball, indeed barely had time to react at all. And it was with a certain righteous fury that Palace set about Everton in the second half: pushing higher, hoisting crosses and scurrying menacingly around the final third.

But they were unable to turn their pressure into clear chances and in the chastening chill Everton held firm and earned their reward. Are they going to win the Premier League this season? Are they going to win it next season or the one after that? No, no, and a thousand times no. But for now they can survey the rest of the table from their lofty perch and dream like kings.

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