An extraordinary start to the second half saw Everton fall behind against the run of play and then hit back with strikes from Conor Coady and Dwight McNeil to seal the Blues first away victory of the season, much to the deligt of the rapturous travelling support.
Following the international break, Saturday saw a welcome return to domestic league footie and the Blues on one of the longest trips of the season, to St.Mary’s to take on Southampton. Rail strikes posed some travelling fans a problem but, it won’t come as any surprise that resourceful Blues found their way there to cheer on the Boys in Blue.
Prior to kick-off, the hosts say one place below Everton in the Premier League table on the same points but, with a three goals worse difference. And Saints manager Ralph Hassenhuttl was hoping the two-week break will have helped his squad overcome some of their early season issues. Speaking on Friday he advised, “We were able to work individually on some behaviours that we need for our game. We had some good sessions and it is going to be hard for me to put a squad on the pitch because they all did a good job. We had 10 squad players that stayed here this time which made it a bit easier. It can be hard to plan sessions with just four or five players.”
He knows his side have blown somewhat hot and cold in the early weeks of the campaign when he added, “We need every player on a high level and that is why we pushed them so hard. We are ready for this intense time. We have a lot of games coming up and everyone is excited. We are a team that always needs to work and fight together to find the rhythm and in the last weeks we didn’t have much chance to create a rhythm with the international break and it’s the reason we are looking forward to an intense time with a lot of games and get some rhythm.”
Hassenhuttl was boosted by learning that Che Adams would probably recover sufficiently from a virus sustained while away with Scotland in order to face Everton however, he did not have either Romeo Lavia nor Tino Livramento to call upon. Looking for a third victory of the season and the chance to leapfrog over Everton in the standings, he named six changes in his starting line-up: Bazunu, Walker-Peters, Bella-Kotchap, Caleta-Car, Lopez, Ward-Prowse (c), Maitland-Niles, Mara, Aribo, Armstrong and Adams.
Having secured their first win, last time out against West Ham, Everton travelled south in good spirits but knowing that the last couple of visits to St.Mary’s have ended in massively disappointing performances and results; something not lost on manager Frank Lampard when he noted the team “are in a better place” heading to St Mary’s this time, compared to last February which ended in a 2-0 defeat.
Injuries have been a blight on the Blues since the opening day of the season and another was suffered by emerging right back Nathan Patterson while away with Scotland as he incurred an ankle injury that could see him out of the side for four weeks or longer. Club captain Seamus Coleman was therefore ready to step into the breach for his first outing in the top-flight since the end of last season.
In other injury news, Frank Lampard was delighted to confirm that England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford is “good to go” and would likely return at Southampton and Dominic Calvert-Lewin is closing in on a return too. Asked about Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s inclusion for the trip south Lampard said: “We’re looking at it, we want him at his best fitness and strength. Any player that has injuries finds it difficult to deal with because he wants to play and he’ll be frustrated when he can’t play. We’re in a good place mentally but then you look at all the big players that we’re missing. Injuries are unfortunate, we have suffered a lot but, that’s modern-day football.”
The October fixtures represent a stiff calendar for the Blues and on his thoughts for all the games before the next international break, he said, “We just have to get as many points as we can. It’s like a mini league and it’s an interesting season but in a good way.”
With Brazilian midfielder Allan having left the club this week and Salomon Rondon on notice he can leave in January, Lampard was setting his stall out as to who his first choice midfielders and strike force are going forward. And knowing an improved performance and a positive result would be another step on the road to full recovery for the Blues, Super Frank named his starting eleven in a 4-3-3 formation: Pickford, Coleman (c), Coady, Tarkowski, Mykolenko, Iwobi, Onana, Gueye, McNeil, Gray and Maupay.
On a bright, sunny October afternoon, our referee was Andre Marriner.
The home side kicked off, playing into the low sun and it was an early left-wing charge by Alex Iwobi saw him cross into the area and Southampton were a bit lucky to smuggle the ball to safety where Amadou Onana looked impeded – VAR said no. The home side responded with a searching cross from Walker-Peters being headed clear by Coady under pressure from Adams.
A right-wing break by Armstrong saw the ball fall to Adams but, he put his close range effort wide of the near post. The next Everton raid saw a nice turn by Gray before feeding Gana Gueye who was fouled by Maitland-Niles who was booked for his troubles on seven minutes. Gray took the free kick and bent it around the wall, taking a deflection on the way that the referee chose to ignore.
Good interplay between Iwobi, Gray, Maupay and Mykolenko ended disappointingly with a cross from Iwobi that was too strong and sailed out beyond the far post. More good approach work from the Blues saw the first corner won as a cross from Gray was put behind by a Saints defender. A poor delivery from Gray saw Saints clear easily and through fifteen minutes, we remained scoreless.
Both sides were being found guilty of losing possession far too easily and when finding the opportunity to cross, tending to overhit balls into the opponents area and providing an easy outlet to safety. Everton were looking solid in defence and combative in midfield and got forward again to win a second right wing corner. The first cross from Gray came back out to him and he played it low to the near post for Maupay, Bazunu in the home goal doing really well to prevent the opening goal.
Lopez took out Gray and incredibly escaped a yellow card and a couple of minutes later, Dwight McNeil was also a tad fortunate not to see yellow for a foul on Walker-Peters that referee Marriner didn’t even give. A good tackle by Mykolenko then saw him release Gray on the left, to gain ground, jink inside and then hit a poor, weak shot that Bazunu saved comfortably.
Everton were having slightly the better of a scrappy game, Southampton relying on counter-attacking but without anything like the kind of cohesion and fluidity to trouble the Blues defence. Another decent break by the Blues with Iwobi, Gana Gueye and Onana involved came to nothing as Gray was closed down as he tried to cut a ball back towards Maupay. Half an hour gone and we still awaited a meaningful attempt on either goal.
McNeil cutting in off the right flank was shut down but, the Blues were easily dealing with Southampton in midfield and McNeil got forward again to win a third right wing corner that was fired into the six yard area just too strongly for Onana to turn goalwards. Everton were now clearly on top but, needed to find that killer pass and finish to break the deadlock.
Onana stayed down after a midfield collision allowing the home side to launch an attack that was dealt with and the follow-up break by the Blues came to nothing. Seamus Coleman taking a pass from McNeil flighted an excellent cross into the area that was put behind for another Blues corner that found Maupay at the back post, his header going straight into the arms of Bazunu. A cheeky quick throw by Adams set Armstrong free, his first cross was blocked and his second was deflected nicely for Jordan Pickford to gather.
Into the final five minutes of the half and Southampton worked an opening for Walker-Peters to cross and Armstrong send a weak shot straight at JP. McNeil won another corner, this time from the left, for the Blues that Gray swung to the near post for Tarkowski but again, nothing ensued. Everton were striving for a half time lead and a sixth corner came that Bazunu flapped at and Southampton, despite a late flurry, were probably much the happier side at the break after just one minute of added-on time elapsed.
Half Time: 0-0
Neither manager made a change for the second half that saw the home side start positively to win their first corner; Ward-Prowse and Armstrong tried crosses into the area but, Everton dealt with both comfortably. However the bright start to the half by the Saints drew first blood as Adams fed Aribo and with no great pressure upon him, he had time to control and coolly slot his firm shot beyond Pickford in the 49th minute.
Everton were level inside two minutes as Gray flighted a free kick to the back post for Onana to head down for Conor Coady to smash home from five yards.
It was all-action now as Southampton got forward on an error from Tarkowski and some last ditch defending kept the home side from regaining the lead. Incredibly, Everton broke down the other end and a cross from Alex Iwobi saw a push on Onana but the ball fell perfectly for Dwight McNeil to strike an unstoppable shot into the top corner – three goals in a little under five minutes and the Blues now deservedly in front.
All the noise was now coming from the travelling fans who had made the long trek south and they were nearly celebrating again as a cross from Coleman saw Onana put a header wide of the near post. Spirit of the Blues was ringing around St.Mary’s as the Blues pinned the Saints in their own half. The first changes came just before the hour mark as Ralph HassenHuttl made a double change, Perraud replacing Lopex and Mara replaced by Adam Armstrong.
Walker-Peters won a corner on the right off Mykolenko, Coady with the first clearing header and Pickford with an easy save as a second cross came in. The pace of the game was much greater than that of the first half and as a result more chances were coming for both sides, Adams taking a ball from Armstrong on his chest before hitting a decent volley wide across the face of goal.
This was now a decent contest although Armstrong was fortunate not to be booked for a clumsy challenge on Amadou Onana, and JP was spoken to be the referee for time-wasting. Southampton made a third change on 67 minutes, former Manchester City play Edozie replacing Maitland-Niles.
Good defending by Conor Coady saw him win a goal kick when a Southampton corner looked more likely and Pickford again tested the patience of the home fans and the referee as Anthony Gordon took to the touchline to warm-up. An excellent through ball from McNeil saw Gray ruled just offside and we hit the 70-minute mark – 20 to play for a first away win of the season.
The next Saints attack saw both the Armstrongs involved, Alan mishitting his shot and it bouncing harmlessly over the crossbar. Pickford with an excellent save as he pushed an Armstrong shot around the post for a corner as the home side tried to increase their efforts. Coleman conceded another corner on the right, Pickford parried a Walker-Peters shot and the follow-up effort sailed wide.
Changes for the Blues on 74 minutes saw Anthony Gordon replace Dwight McNeil and Tom Davies replaced Amadou Onana for the final quarter of an hour plus added-on time. Gana Gueye brought down Adams to give the Saints a free kick on their left, Ward-Prowse sending it too strongly towards the back post and nobody other than the referee saw a deflection to award a corner. Pickford punched it clear and when Gray conceded another, the England ‘keeper did well to push that back over his bar under pressure.
Southampton were now pouring forward in search of an equaliser while Everton were working hard to keep them at bay and reward their travelling fans with a much needed win on the road, and they responded with another rendition of Spirit of the Blues. The final ten minutes promised to be nail-biting and Gana Gueye picked up a yellow card for a clumsy but, far from malicious challenge on Armstrong, the Blues successfully defending the free kick.
A collision between Steven Armstrong and Alex Iwobi left our Nigerian midfield dynamo in some pain and he needed a couple of minutes to get treatment while Frank Lampard prepared more changes. Salomon Rondon joined the action in the 88th minute replacing Neal Maupay and he was immediately bowled over by a Southampton defender with no free kick awarded. The fourth official signalled six additional minutes and Abdoulaye Doucoure came on for Demarai Gray to bolster the midfield for the final exchanges.
Adams got away with a clear foul on Tom Davies and then caught Coady with a flailing arm as the Blues defended stoutly and Rondon fouled Bella-Kotchap and the resulting free kick saw Caleta-Car volley over the crossbar when he really should have at least made Pickford work.