Everton boss Roberto Martinez admitted he and his players were hurting after their pursuit of a top-four Barclays Premier League finish was damaged by a 3-2 home loss to Crystal Palace. Press Association Martinez, whose side had gone into the contest on a seven-game top-flight winning run, said afterwards: “It is a reaction of disappointment because the result is a hurtful one, especially with the expectations we had and the real desire that we brought into the game. “I thought in the first half, we wanted to win so much that we forgot about the simple basics that you need to do to win a football game. “The way we defended carried somehow a bit of fear and that left us a bit exposed. It is not normal for us to play with that feeling. “I thought the second half was completely different – we changed the approach, it was a bit more positive and it was back to being ourselves. “But I think in every aspect the game played well into Crystal Palace’s hands today.” Palace deservedly went in at the break a goal up thanks to Jason Puncheon’s strike, and were 2-0 ahead early in the second half when the unmarked Scott Dann headed in a corner. Substitute Steven Naismith reduced the deficit with a close-range finish just after the hour mark before Cameron Jerome’s effort made it 3-1 with just over 15 minutes left. Everton piled on the pressure and Kevin Mirallas slotted home in the 86th minute, but they could not salvage a point. Martinez said: “They were probably the worst opposition we could have played – they are well organised and quite happy to sit behind the ball and hit you on the counter and in dead-ball situations. “But for us to concede those three goals shows that feeling defensively that I’m talking about. “I think we gave everything we had, though, and that we were unfortunate not to get a draw after the chances we created.” The Spaniard, whose side next play Manchester United at home on Sunday and also have to host Manchester City, stressed that he remains encouraged about Everton’s chances of making the top four. “We are disappointed with our defensive work, but we’ll move on,” he said. “We have had a very good run, we are very close to that fourth place and we are going to give everything to try to get as many points as we can between now and the end of the season. “We are in a very good position. If you look at it after the weekend (when Everton were two points ahead of Arsenal in fourth), it is a disappointment, but if you had looked at this at the start of the season, you’d think it is a magnificent position – fifth, one point behind, with a better goal difference. “It is a unique challenge and a unique opportunity. So we are excited from that point of view. “And the way we finished the second half, it gives me great encouragement that we can turn the corner on Sunday.” Palace now look safe, with this win – their fourth in a row – taking them up to 11th and 40 points, 10 clear of the relegation zone. And certainly their manager Tony Pulis is in no doubt that the job of securing survival is now complete. Pulis, who succeeded Ian Holloway in November, said; “It is a great result. “I started at Hull and we had four points. Now we have 40. “It is a remarkable achievement from the players – they have been absolutely fantastic. “I’m proud of them. I’ve just had a chat with them and said that without their effort and buying into what we’re trying to do, we wouldn’t have achieved it. “Its brilliant – I am absolutely delighted for the supporters and the football club. “It is nice to say we are going to be a Premier League club next year with four games to go.” Avoiding defeat would have seen the Toffees move back above Arsenal into fourth place in the race for Champions League football, and a win would have re-established them a two-point cushion over the Gunners. But instead, having been undone by Palace, they remain fifth, a point behind Arsenal with both them and Arsene Wenger’s men having four games each left to go.