A second half brace from James Ward-Prowse condemned Everton to defeat on a day they desperately needed to win three points. After deservedly leading at the break courtesy on an Amadou Onana header, the Blues failed to make anything of that slim advantage and were pegged back inside a minute of the restart.
A potentially huge day in the modern history of Everton Football Club saw them face bottom-of-the-table Southampton in a genuine six-pointer fixture, after a week that had seen over 70 Supporters groups and at least two former players sign up to the #NSNOW campaign for major changes within the upper echelons of the club.
Having come from behind to win at St.Mary’s back in October, the Blues were out to complete the first league double of the season. On loan Conor Coady scored the vital equaliser and Dwight McNeil the winner in that all too infrequent win away from Goodison and it was Coady who spoke about the mood of determination in the squad.
He freely and honestly admitted, “We aren’t come into training laughing and joking at the minute, it’s not like that, we’re not enjoying the position we are in, I will be totally honest with you, it’s a position in terms of knowing where we are and what we need to do to get out of it.”
He continued adding, “We have spoken together, we have spoken as a team, we have spoken as a group, with staff, but also as players in terms of what we need to do going forward. We are fully focused on what we need to do to get out of it. We are a really open group; we are a group who speak to each other every single day.”
When he faced the media on Friday, manager Frank Lampard was asked about the effect the fans welcome can have and he noted, “Myself and the players, we have to be the first to not get distracted by anything. This is a big game for us in terms of the league position and points if we can win. I believe fans are coming early to welcome us and if they are, that’s great… because we saw what a great help that was last season.”
He added, “From my point of view and that of the players, our responsibility is doing our jobs, we have to think about ourselves and performing. If the fans see that in the game, from Everton players and staff, then they’ll react positively.”
Turning to team matters and he advised, “Alex Iwobi is a lesser injury than we first thought so, we’ll see in the morning if he’s ready to play.” And on the readiness of Dominic Calvert-Lewin he said, “Dominic is in a good place, he’s had a nice week of training, we’re managing him as well as we possibly can – he’s fit.”
Desperate for three points and a performance to give the Goodison faithful something to relish after a poor start to the New Year, he named his starting eleven: Pickford (c), Coleman (c), Godfrey, Coady, Tarkowski, Mykolenko, Iwobi, Gana Gueye, Onana, Gray, and Calvert-Lewin.
From their perspective, visitors Southampton might be bottom and staring relegation in the face but, under newly appointed head coach Nathan Jones they have had something of a mini revival albeit in cup competitions with an FA Cup win away at Crystal Palace and a stunning Carabao Cup win over Manchester City.
And the south coast outfit have already completed two deals so far in this January transfer window bringing in midfielder Carlos Alcaraz from Racing Club in Argentina and in an earlier move, Croatian winger Mislav Orsic from Dinamo Zagreb.
Alcaraz believes Nathan Jones being fluent in Spanish himself will help him settle in when he noted, “It’s really good to know that the coach speaks Spanish because that’ll help me over the first few days in terms of understanding the way he and his coaching staff train and work in general.”
Speaking at his media briefing, Jones commented on travelling to another club fighting for their lives, “We’ll be as positive as we possibly canto try and win a football game. We know it’s a difficult game away at Everton, yes they’re in a difficult situation as well. We’ve just got to focus on ourselves and that’s all I can do.”
Jones duly named his starting line-up thus: Bazuna, Lyanco, Caleta-Car, Salish, Walker-Peters, Latvia, Diablo, Ward-Prowse (c), Elyounoussi, Edozie and Adams.
Our referee on windy and damp afternoon was John Brooks.
With some of the NSNOW campaign banners being unfurled ahead of the teams taking to the field, and no members of the Board of Directors in attendance, the already high stakes on this game in front of another full house went up another notch prior to kick off time.
Not the best start for the Blues as inside the first minute Ben Godfrey went down and needed treatment on his right leg, and the first six minutes saw both teams probing each other’s defence without troubling either goalkeeper.
A good ball down the right by Alex Iwobi saw Walker-Peters bring down Seamus Coleman for a free kick that Gray failed to find a blue shirt with. Great tracking back and tackle by Onana launched a Blues raid that broke down on an offside flag but, the crowd were encouraged by the clear desire of the young Belgian.
Onana then drew another foul and a booking for the Saints #45 – Gray finding the head of Dominic Calvert-Lewin but, his header was easily held by Bazuna. Gray led another charge before the visitors defence closed ranks on him and we passed the quarter hour mark with Everton marginally the better side.
A deep cross from the right found Mykolenko arriving only for his effort to be blocked and partially cleared, and when Gray was found he rounded the onrushing goalie but, clipped his shot just off target. The Blues were steadily getting the upper hand and another foul, this time on Tarkowski, earned the Blues a free kick on the left that Gray swung in but, straight into the waiting hands of Bazuna. Onana tried a shot from distance that went wide as the Blues strove to find a breakthrough.
Southampton won the games first corner as Mykolenko deflected a shot behind and it needed quick reactions from Pickford to punch away a close range header. Everton hit back to their own first corner as a Coleman cross was put behind, Gray again taking the set piece and the visitors getting the ball away to safety and a throw-in. Onana again with some good work defensively seemed to be enjoying his personal battle in midfield against Ward-Prowse.
Diallo with a strong challenge on Gana Gueye saw him burst forward from halfway only to balloon his attempt well wide of the target. Gray appeared to have his right ankle clipped but play carried on and he picked himself up and won the Blues second corner with seven minutes of the first half to play… and the deadlock was broken as his set piece was met perfectly by the head of Amadou Onana to beat Bazuna and the Blues were ahead.
Gray was bundled over by a Caleta-Car and the deep free kick again found Onana, his header causing some panic in the Saints six yard box before being cleared. The Blues tails were up and Alex Iwobi switching to the left was desperately unlucky to see a shot beat both Bazuna and the far post.
Two added minutes were announced and a Southampton break saw a side foot shot from Ward-Prowse turned onto the post and out for a corner by Pickford, the corner dealt with and the Blues led at the break.
Half Time: 1-0
No changes by either side for the start of the second half and inside a minute of the restart, Adams laid the ball into of Ward-Prowse to get between two defenders and coolly slot the equaliser.
Duly boosted by having drawn level, Southampton got forward again to win a corner on their right that Onana headed clear. Iwobi won a 50-50 to feed Gray but, his shot was tame and easily gathered in by Bazuna. Godfrey on the rampage fed Dominic Calvert-Lewin and his shot was deflected onto the underside of the crossbar and out to be hoofed clear.
Southampton won another corner this time on their left, Dominic Calvert-Lewin with a clearing header before the visitors made a double change on the hour mark, and Godfrey with a good block denied Armstrong on his first shot. Ward-Prowse tested Pickford from long range, the England Number one going down low to his right to make the save.
Adams got beyond Mykolenko, Coady getting back quickly to close him down and prevent a meaningful attempt on goal. Another rampage forward by Amadou Onana, having probably his best game for the Blues, saw him brought down with the offender rightly yellow carded. Everton used the 69 minute stoppage to replace Seamus Coleman with Anthony Gordon, and the free kick led to Gray crossing deep and the ball hitting the side netting off Godfrey.
Bazuna dived full length to deflect a low cross from Dominic Calvert-Lewin from reaching Gray and the follow up effort went wide. Ward-Prowse saw a long range free kick blocked and Pickford raced from his line to prevent a corner and set the Blues going forward again only for the attack to fizzle out.
Into the final fifteen minutes and it was getting really tense inside a desperate-for-victory Goodison, and a corner on the right was won, and sadly cleared far too easily. Southampton broke and Gordon gave away a needless and frankly stupid free kick and inevitably Ward-Prowse hit a perfect free kick for his second of the game and the Saints go-ahead goal on 78 minutes.
Gordon won a corner on the right and Ellis Simms replaced Idrissa Gana Gueye on 81 minutes to head straight into the penalty area only for the corner from Gray to again fail to find a blue shirt and be easily cleared.
Southampton made a late triple change to try and protect their lead while Everton were reduced to long balls and speculative crosses that Bazuna dealt with far too easily. Four added minutes were announced, four minutes for Everton to potentially save their future.
A free kick saw Gray send another cross deep into the Saints area and again be cleared at the expense of a corner from the right. The corner was cleared and a follow up cross from Gordon punched clear by Bazuna.
And that was that… and the sit-in protest ensued.
Full Time: 1-2