Charlie Austin’s goal in the opening minute secured a comfortable victory for Southampton – a result that was never in doubt as Southampton cruised to victory with another desperately disappointing performance from Everton.
Brief Summary… A disastrous opening minute condemned Everton to another south coast defeat and mounting concern about the direction the season is going in.
Ronald Koeman returned to St.Marys’ for the first time since quitting the Saints last summer to join Everton, but his first visit saw him needing to take three points from his former charges in order to quieten the murmurings of discontent amongst the ranks of Evertonians following a series of lack-lustre displays from the Blues in recent weeks.
Everton lined up in the almost inevitable 4-2-3-1 formation thus: Stekelenburg, Baines, Williams, Jagielka, Coleman, Barry, Gueye, Barkley, Bolasie, Lennon and Lukaku.
Saints starting eleven was more of a 4-3-3: Forster, Cedric, Fonte, Van Dijk, Bertrand, Hojbjerg, Romeu, Ward-Prowse, Sims – making his debut, Austin and Redmond.
If the midweek Europa League trip and loss to Sparta Prague had any negative effect on the Saints, they left it in the dressing room as Holy Smoke if the defensive woes of late were not bad enough, the Everton back four went totally to sleep right from the kick-off with Austin heading the home side in front inside fifty seconds taking full advantage of Jags and Seamus failing to deal with a right wing cross and a little chip from Sims. Everton that !!
Bizarrely, despite having conceded so early, Everton then dominated the possession for the next ten minutes without troubling the home defence. Fonte ploughed through Lukaku without any punishment and a right wing cross from Lennon disappointingly went straight into the hands of Forster for his first touch of the ball.
On 16 minutes, the debutante Sims had the freedom of the six-yard box presented to him, but thankfully his header from a chipped cross had no power or direction and Stekelenburg made an easy gather to save further defensive blushes. The home side were growing in confidence and Hojbjerg was next to chance his arm with a very speculative shot from 25 yards that comfortably cleared the crossbar.
An equaliser should have registered when a sweet ball from Gareth Barry found Seamus racing for the bye-line and his delicious cutback was skied over the bar by Gana Gueye when he really should have made Forster work at the very least. The effort though did stir the travelling support into increased vocal encouragement.
Romeu hauled down Bolasie on 32 minutes to present Everton with a free kick wide on the left that Baines swung high to the back post for Gareth Barry, but his header failed to trouble Forster and landed on top of the goal.
As the break loomed, Barry broke up a Saints move to feed Bolasie and his curling cross was headed wide by Barkley to leave Ronald Koeman scratching his teeth and head as he considered the nature and strength of his half-time lecture.
Half Time 1-0, despite Everton having had more of the possession but not troubling Fraser Forster one iota.
More shocking defending early into the second half almost gifted the home side a second goal from a corner but Hojbjerg hit the outside of the goal from a tight angle on the right. At the other end, another foul by Romeu gave Everton a free kick just outside the box, but Lukaku fired it well over the bar much to the delight of the home fans and consternation of the travelling Blues.
A raking cross from the right saw Stekelenburg need to go full length to his right to deny Austin a second goal as Southampton began to impose themselves more on the game. A spectacular overhead kick by Bolasie saw Forster make his first real save even though it wouldn’t have counted as the ref had already blown for offside.
Gerard Deulofeu entered the fray on 64 minutes replacing the largely ineffective Aaron Lennon but it was a further five minutes before Everton threatened as Bolasie curled a twenty-yarder over the bar. Koeman immediately made his second change withdrawing Barkley in favour of Mirallas hoping the Belgian would add a bit more pace and directness to the Everton attacking play.
Into the final quarter of an hour and Everton finally looked to up the tempo and put Southampton under some concerted pressure, forcing another free kick that Baines endeavoured to find Ashley Williams with. It wasn’t to be and Southampton could and probably should have doubled their lead as first Baines deflected a Sims cross to safety, then a Ward-Prowse shot was spilled by Stekelenburg and from the follow-up cross by Austin, Sims failed to get a telling touch with the goal gaping.
Stekelenburg and Jags combined to keep Everton in the game as the home side showed no signs of Europa League fatigue. Coleman and Mirallas then combined with the defenders hot being blocked and Koeman made his final change sending Valencia on for Baines in a last-ditch attempt to salvage a point.
Saints gave Josh Sims the honour of a well-deserved ovation on his home debut with seven minutes to play – the youngster certainly had not been overawed by the occasion.
Shaine Long came on for Charlie Austin ahead of Enner Valencia nearly opening his account with a header from a Mirallas cross. With an extra three minutes signalled, a mazy run by Mirallas saw huis cross too far ahead of Lukaku as desperation became the too little, too late modus operandi. A Gareth Barry snapshot went straight to Forster as Koeman stalked the touchline and home crowd called for the final whistle.
Full Time 1-0.
Another disappointing showing from Everton whose form and lack of confidence is beginning to worry more than a few supporters.