Greater energy and a well- designed and applied counter-attacking game plan saw Southampton claim three valuable points in their battle to avoid relegation. Goals from Ward-Prowse and an unfortunate OG by Lucas Digne before a late consolation from Sigurdsson meant a miserable journey home for the travelling fans who again had turned out in numbers.
Everton travelled south after a full week of rest following the victory of Bournemouth while the hosts, Southampton, were taken to extra time and penalties before exiting the FA Cup to Frank Lampards’ Derby County in midweek
Despite that loss and since the arrival of Ralph Hasenhuttl following the departure of Mark Hughes, the Saints have been a much improved outfit as their win away at Leicester, when down to ten men, clearly illustrated. And with a three players – Austin, Valery and Hojbjerg – all available for selection having served suspensions, the Austrian was keen to see his charges quickly get past the cup exit.
On Friday in his pre-match press gathering he commented, “We showed against Leicester how much we wanted to fight for the three points, because we knew exactly that it could help us to leave the relegation zone. The next opponents after Saturday – Crystal Palace, Burnley and Cardiff – are teams that are in our zone. This game and the next ones maybe show us in what direction our development is going – is it going in the upper regions or do we stay where we are?”
Hasenhuttl is also well known to Ademola Lookman having coached the Everton player during his loan period at RB Leipzig last season and maybe allowed for his offensive threat in selecting his starting eleven: McCarthy, Bednarek, Stephens, Vestergaard, Valery, Hojbjerg (c), Romeu, Ward-Prowse, Targett, Redmond and Ings.
For the Blues in the Premier League era at least, the long trip to the South coast hasn’t always being fruitful with only three wins from nineteen previous road trips, but with a home victory of Hughes’ Saints back in August, Marco Silva was on the hunt for a first league double over Southampton since the 2001/02 season.
In his pre-departure press conference at Finch Farm, he was asked about how or whether Everton would make any moves in what remains of the January transfer window. He responded, “When you asked me the last few weeks the possible players coming or not in the market, I told you that you just can’t sign someone [unless] someone leaves the club or we sell someone. We don’t have the financial conditions to go in the market, [that] is the feedback I have at the moment. I have to find different solutions.”
With Oumar Niasse having joined Cardiff City on loan on Friday afternoon, Silva might be hoping Director of Football Marcel Brands can work something out to bolster the squad for the remainder of this campaign.
With a full squad bar Phil Jagielka to draw upon, and many Blues fans expecting the same eleven who began against Bournemouth to start at St.Marys’ surely the only issue for Silva was whether to keep faith with Ademola Lookman or return Theo Walcott to the starting line-up given his goalscoring history against Southampton. In the end Silvas’ team sheet read: Pickford, Digne, Zouma, Keane, Coleman (c), Gana Gueye, Gomes, Sigurdsson, Lookman, Bernard and Richarlison.
In front of another sold-out visiting supporters section, Graham Scott was our referee.
Digne and Bernard combined on the end of a pass from Gomes to earn the Blues an early corner that saw Gana Gueye on the right do enough to force a second, but Saints cleared the threat. The home side responded forcing their first corner as Targett found Ward-Prowse for a shot that Keane got a very timely and effective block on.
An excellent challenge by Gana Gueye on the edge of the Everton area denied Ings the chance to cause a problem, and Gana Gueye was again the key man as Ings found Redmond and his early ball to the left side saw the Senegalese make an excellent clearance.
Good work by Lookman to put Vestergaard under pressure worked an opening for Sigurdsson to cross, but it was blocked at the expense of a throw-in.
Southampton broke quickly and Targett had to stretch to reach a ball from Redmond to win a corner off Coleman. The set piece from Ward-Prowse found Ings on the edge of the six-yard box and Pickford made an excellent save diving low to his left to push the ball to safety with nobody guarding the back post.
The home side had settled well and looking to get Redmond away on the left to test Coleman before crossing where Zouma headed clear to deny Ings at the back post with a follow-up effort cannoning to safety off Digne with half-hearted appeals for a penalty for hand ball.
Richarlison hadn’t featured at all in the opening twenty minutes on balls lumped up to him, so he came deep to gather a ball to feed Bernard who went wide right to then find Sigurdsson for a shot that was blocked. Everton kept the pressure on an Bednarek made a super block to deny Lookman set up by Bernard.
Gana Gueye caught Ings with a stiff challenge and was perhaps a tad fortunate not to see a yellow card brandished in his direction, referee Scott giving him the benefit of the doubt.
Bednarek with a crucial interception lofted the ball forward in a flash for Ings to crash a volley in that Pickford saved well, but the warning signs of Southampton looking to get the ball forward very quickly were clear to see.
A left wing cross from Targett saw Zouma concede another corner and the big defender was well placed to clear the set piece from Ward-Prowse to begin a ick counter attack that saw Richarlison fail to make the most of an opportunity to stretch Southampton, going on his own when a ball wide might have proven more fruitful.
Half an hour gone and rain began to fall on St.Marys’ as Targett gingerly hobbled off after a short delay to receive some treatment.
Another quick break by Saints saw Hojbjerg release Redmond, but Keane did enough to force him wide enough that his shot across the face of goal had enough to not only beat Pickford, but to clip the far post as well on its way wide.
Targett, who’d hurt his left knee in a challenge on Lookman earlier, limped off on 34 minutes to be replaced by Cedric.
Everton enjoyed a spell of possession without troubling the home side and were extremely lucky to survive a 40th minute attack as Ings broke into the box. Andre Gomes, tracking back, got to the ball to deny him a shot, but played it beyond the advancing Pickford, to come back off the post for Keane to hammer it clear.
Saints continued to look more threatening and another counter saw Valery waste the crossing opportunity, putting the ball very nicely for Pickford to gath Bernard, playing a sweet ball for Digne to run onto, went down in pain under a challenge from Stephens and limped off as three added minutes were signalled. Gomes took a bang from Romeu as the first half fizzled out.
Whilst Everton had enjoyed more possession, you can’t win a game without any efforts on target and we hadn’t had one. Richarlison in a lone striker role wasn’t even close to working and it needs to be said that disappointingly, Sigurdsson had barely featured in a scoreless first half. Of the two managers, Saints boss Hasenhuttl will have been the more pleased.
Half Time: 0-0
No changes by either manager during the interval saw the Blues attacking the end where the massed ranks of the travelling support were located.
An early cross from Coleman found Lookman who went down under a pressure from Romeu with those supporters howling for a penalty that significantly, no Everton player did. A superb cross from Digne wide on the left found Sigurdsson in space for a header on target that McCarthy in the home goal did very well to turn away for a corner as the Blues started the half brightly.
But it was Saints who opened the scoring with their first foray forward as Ward-Prowse beat Gana Gueye to a ball following a header from Zouma to drive forward ten yards and crash a fierce shot beyond the dive of Pickford.
Saints were boosted and Hojbjerg forced a corner on the right that saw Bernard counter with Lookman to his right, but Cedric got back to deny the Blues diminutive forwards a chance. Dominic Calvert-Lewin immediately stripped off ready to join the fray at the expense of Gomes on 56 minutes.
If falling behind wasn’t bad enough, Everton coughed up a second in the 64th minute as Ward-Prowse pounced on a loose ball to find Ings and his instant ball forward for Redmond saw Lucas Digne unfortunate to get to the ball but he could only send the ball beyond Pickford into the corner of the net from the edge of the box.
Silva immediately withdrew the ineffective Richarlison to send Cenk Tosun on and from the restart, Gana Gueye and Redmond clashed with both seeing yellow cards.
Everton needed to start throwing bodies forward to try and find a way back into the game, at the risk of exposing themselves to the greater pace and direct counter-attacking threat from Ings and Redmond.
Bernard found Tosun with a nicely played, outside of the right boot pass, but he was quickly closed down by Stephens and Cedric with nobody showing in support of him.
Sigurdsson twisted and turned on the edge of the box to find Bernard for a cross to the back post and when the ball came in again from Lookman, McCarthy got in a firm punch to clear. Saints countered with another rapid break and long ball played forward for Redmond to chase, but he fired his shot high and wide.
Theo Walcott replaced Bernard and Shane Long replaced Ings as the game entered the final quarter hour with the Blues needing some divine inspiration if they weren’t to slip to another massively disappointing loss.
Another long ball, this time for Long to chase saw Coleman concede a corner that Keane climbed to head clear. But it was Saints who were soon back on the attack, Stephens running forty yards with the ball as the home side poured forward to eventually with a corner. Ward-Prowse swung it over and Stephens climbed to send his header narrowly wide.
Walcott chipped a ball into the path of Coleman to get away and cross where DCL leapt to win the header but couldn’t direct it under the bar inder pressure from McCarthy and Vestergaard.
Armstrong replaced Redmond for the final five minutes and Zouma went down awkwardly as Southampton attacked and a ball in for Long saw Pickford turn the shot away for a corner.
Saints fans taunted the Blues supporters with chants of “Cheerio, cheerio” as many of them, disappointed and disgruntled at yet another ‘no-show’ from Everton, chose to make their way to the exits.
Everton scored a late consolation goal in the 90th minute as a long throw-in from Digne wasn’t cleared and with Zouma causing a nuisance, Sigurdsson was able to plant a precise, slide-rile shot through a forest of legs and past McCarthy.
Into four added-on minutes and Digne and Walcott combined on the left only for the cross to the back past to be too high for Coleman to make anything of.
Saints were defending like their lives depended on it and a late, late corner from Digne saw Pickford race forward to no avail as it was cleared and the referee called time on a shocking Everton performance.