If you’re going to concede the first goal, as Everton have now done seven times in 13 Premier League games, then you can’t really ask for more time to address the situation than 89-plus minutes. And yet, faced again with the need to react, to fight, to show character, Ronald Koeman’s impotent outfit couldn’t muster a sustained response until time was ebbing away in the second half.
Once again, it was too late and the too little came in the form of Gareth Barry’s weak effort in the third minute of stoppage time. It was Everton’s first and only attempt on target in 94 minutes of football (a Yannick Bolasie overhead kick that Fraser Forster saved in the second half wouldn’t have stood after referee Craig Pawson penalised the Congolese for a push) – a neat summation of just how bereft this team of attacking ideas, impetus and threat… as if last weekend’s equally toothless display against Swansea hadn’t already provided one.
Koeman, shown up on his first trip back to St Mary's Stadium since ditching Southampton over the summer, has big problems on his hands. His squad seems immune to whatever powers of motivation he possesses, perhaps aware that having cycled through various options, particularly in attacking midfield and central defence, the Dutchman doesn’t have many alternatives beyond turning to youth, something he appears bafflingly resistant to doing. Here, he kept the same side as the one that started last Saturday, with the exception of Gareth Barry who replaced James McCarthy in central midfield.
His team lacks any fluidity, cutting edge or genuine battling spirit and he has a striker whom he proclaims to be among the best in Europe toiling away with barely any support in a role to which he just isn’t accustomed. Romelu Lukaku’s attitude and body language on the field can be infuriating, as can be his touch when it deserts him (as it did again in this match), and there is no question that he could work harder to create his own opportunities, but he has been embarrassingly starved of service in recent games. A natural goalscorer, he has had two shots on goal in three matches, both of them against Swansea and neither of them routine chances. That’s a massive problem.
So, too, is a defence which continues to struggle defending crosses. Having lost the ball from their own kick-off, Everton failed to deal with one of those deep deliveries from the right that consistently led to goals under Roberto Martinez last season and when Phil Jagielka mis-timed his jump and the ball bounced off Seamus Coleman in front of goal, the result was inevitable. Josh Sims snatched at the loose ball but it fell invitingly to Charlie Austin who couldn’t miss from a yard out. Just 42 seconds had elapsed.
Again, ample time for a team with Everton’s European ambitions and supposed talent to respond and, for a brief spell they actually seized control of the game, playing some neat passing football — increasingly rare under Koeman — albeit almost entirely in front of a well-marshalled and disciplined red and white wall. And when those moves broke down, Southampton seemed able to get behind the Blues’ defence at the first time of asking, as Nathan Redmond did in the 17th minute to pick out Sims in the centre but the youngster couldn’t get enough power on his header to trouble Maarten Stekelenburg.
The best move from Koeman’s side should have levelled it after 25 minutes as Barry’s slide-rule pass was dummied by Aaron Lennon and found Coleman on the overlap but Idrissa Gueye skied the Irishman’s cut-back high over the crossbar.
Barry himself had a great chance to equalise after Oriol Romeu had taken Bolasie’s legs and the veteran midfielder found himself with a free header at the back post but he steered his header over. Ross Barkley, once again all neat touches and short passes but providing no penetration, had another opportunity but missed badly with a header, while Gueye despatched another effort into the stands on the stroke of half time.
Koeman bemoaned another lethargic first-half display from his team after the game and again suggested that their second-half showing was more how he wants Everton to play but it’s hard to see what he was referring to because the improvement was only gradual until desperation took over in the last 10 minutes.
And Southampton could have buried them by that point. Pierre-Emile Højbjerg smacked a shot off the outside of the post when he probably should have hit it across goal where two Saints attackers were lurking. Stekelenburg then kept the Blues in it with a superb sprawling save, diving to his right to palm Austin’s unchallenged header behind for a corner.
Prior to that, Gueye’s excellent slaloming run had been stopped by Romeu who chopped him down on the edge of the box but Lukaku swept the free kick over while Bolasie had unwisely elected to go it alone a few minutes later but finished his powerful run down the centre with a wild shot that flew a couple of yards wide. He would come closer a few minutes later when he curled an effort inches above the crossbar but those efforts were rare sights of goal for an Everton side that struggled to build coherent attacks all afternoon.
Some of the distribution in midfield and from defence was awful, another by-product of the lack of movement and options in forward areas. So often the tactic was simply to bang the ball through the middle, either in the air or on the floor and Barry in particular was guilty of whacking it straight to a Southampton player. (It is said that the Blues rarely play well without him in the line-up but, unfortunately, he had a bad day at the office.)
From the mid-way point in the second half, Koeman made moves to try and spark Everton into life, withdrawing the industrious but, again, ineffective Lennon for Gerard Deulofeu and then hooking Barkley for Kevin Mirallas with 20 minutes left. Instead, it was Southampton who almost scored again, the otherwise disappointing Baines getting a crucial foot to Sims’s shot from the angle and then hooking the ball off his goal line after Stekelenburg had got his gloves to James Ward-Prowse’s shot after the Saints midfielder had found himself with time in the box to chest down another cross from the right.
Ward-Prowse could and probably should have killed the contest when Stekelenburg spilled his shot to Austin but he failed to make proper contact on the striker’s square pass and the visitors escaped.
With Mirallas offering a bit more forward thrust than had Barkley and the urgency of the situation finally dawning on the Blues, Southampton were forced back more in the final 10 minutes. However, Bolasie’s greed got the better of him again as he wasted a good counter-attack opportunity with Deulofeu a better option ahead of him and Coleman’s shot from Mirallas’s cut-back from the byline was blocked. And Enner Valencia, a late introduction for Baines, dropped a near-post header inches wide in the 89th minute as Everton tried another last-ditch Houdini act.
It wasn’t to be though and Koeman’s men stretched a dismal record of results to just one win in eight Premier League matches. Somehow they remain in 7th place but the bottom half beckons again if results don’t improve in the coming weeks.
Again, worryingly, the manager doesn’t appear to have the answer to why his side lacks tempo and intensity in the first half of games and are producing so little in attack. Certainly, with the talent that exists in the squad on paper and Koeman’s own managerial experience, Evertonians are entitled to expect more — better distribution in the middle of the park, better finishing from the midfielders, better ball control and more invention from the attacking players.
Pleas for change have largely fallen on deaf ears so far, with the same personnel picked week-in, week-out when, from the captain on down, they are under-performing to a galling degree. The questions have been asked: Why no alteration to a tired and busted lone-striker system, one with which Everton have persisted now for two and a half seasons.
Where’s the youth? Depending on kids comes with its on risks, both for the team and the players themselves, but at some point you have to ask, with their willingness to please and, hopefully, pride in the jersey, could they do any worse? Or are we just going to sleepwalk to January where Koeman and Steve Walsh will attempt to buy the solutions to a deep-seated malaise that is threatening to make 2016-17 another write-off of a season in a long rebuilding job?
Matchday UpdatesRonald Koeman stuck with his senior players for the game at Southampton, making just one change from last week as Gareth Barry replaced James McCarthy.
Barry returned after serving a one-match suspension last week against Swansea City, with McCarthy not on the bench. Jagielka retained his starting position as captain despite concerns over his form and an increasing number of mistakes. Deulofeu and Mirallas were benched with Lennon and Bolasie preferred despite poor performances from both players last week.
In stark contrast to Koeman's reluctance to use any of his young and well-performing Academy players, his old side gave a full debut to 19-year-old Josh Sims as one of six changes from the team that played in the Europa League on Thursday.
Everton kicked off but Southampton were at them like tigers and the ball was in the Everton net off a cross that Coleman chested down and set up nicely for young Sims, almost on the goalline but not offside, clipping the ball to Charlie Austin who had an easy last touch inside 40 seconds. Unbelievable statement of Everton's astounding lethargy and horrific defending.
The tempo of the game was far too lively for the Blues, pressed at every turn with challenges flying in, totally disrupting the slow and deliberate passing possession game Everton rely on. They did their best to settle, and Lennon got in a cross straight to Forster.
Everton resumed their slow passing game but the home side very effectively pressed them back and denied any ball into the Southampton area, the turnover coming eventually, with Redmond trying a cutback that was out of play.
Coleman pushed Redmond over a little too forcefully but the free-kick was punched out by Stekelenburg and then fired high by Højbjerg. The Saints were happy enough to slow things down a little and probe for an opening that came as Redmond picked out the diminutive Sims who could not get enough power on a free header to beat Stekelenburg.
Southampton were playing well and moving the ball around effectively, whereas by contrast, Barkley had a chance to run forward with it, played up to Lukaku blocked off by three players who easily stole it off him. Højbjerg had another pop from distance that flew a foot or two over the bar.
Everton did finally make an attempt on goal, Coleman getting to the byeline and pulling back well for Gueye whose atrocious shot will do his lousy goalscoring stats no good whatsoever.
A protracted session of pass the parcel around the back looked to release Barkley but his control let him down. Bolasie got to the edge of the area and spooned a lazy shot well wide, no real attempt to put it on target. Boalsie made amends stealing the ball back and combining well with Barkley to win a decent free-kick wide left. The ball was curled high by Baines and there was Barry at the far post, all alone underneath it, but inexplicably headed over when it looked easier to score.
Too many forward balls played vaguely in the direction of isolated Lukaku who had no chance of collecting any of them. Meanwhile, fast running by Redmond won a Southampton corner taken by Ward-Prowse and it caused havoc before being hacked way by Gana.
Everton got forward down the right but Coleman and Lukaku were outnumbered. The Blues tried a more central approach but Lukaku's pass back failed to find Barkley, and the ball was turned over for another speedy counter-attack by Southampton.
Williams and Austin had a little wrestle with each other. A more lively move started with Bolasie winning the ball back and putting in a good cross but Barkley was challenged and could only head it wide. Everton got a corner that came to Barkley, who laid it back for Gana, and another atrocious strike from the non-scoring midfielder — shameful really — bringing another shockingly poor half for the Blues to a painful end.
The early pattern of the second half was not too promising, the ball coming back to Stekelenburg twice for hoofs up-field that were repeatedly won back by Southampton. The ball did finally come to Bolasie but he could not get in a decent cross and Gana was fouled.
Southampton seemed to have so much more space and accurate passing as they surged forward and won an early corner, taken by Ward-Prowse, through a group of Blue statues, Højbjerg slashing it behind off the post. Sims then had a shot that Stekelenburg had to save.
Gana decided to run the ball in, a driving run stopped illegally on the edge of the area, Lukaku stepping up to take the set-piece that he lamely whacked well over the bar. Poor from the big man.
Gana gave away a free-kick for holding Højbjerg from behind. Bolasie picked up the ball and scampered forward, beating Van Dijk but he lashed the ball while stretching and it flew wide. Bolasie was showing more energy but Gana's ball to Coleman was horribly overhit, wasting the opportunity.
Then, the Saints made a fine cross from nothing, superbly headed by Austin, and superbly saved by Stekelenburg. Another home corner and Austin came very close to his second again. The hour mark... but no sign of any predictable subs by Koeman.
Better play finally saw a shot on gaol, an acrobatic one from Bolasie, straight at Forster. Deulofeu replaced Lennon, but Southampton still looked the more likely to score, Everton still looking lethargic. Baines shockingly mugged buy Sims who scampered down the other end but misplaced his final ball.
Bolasie tried to curl one in but it landed on the roof of the net. Mirallas then place Barkley who had had a rather poor game, not really expressing himself as we know he can. Redmond came close as time ticked away with Everton still trailing.
Jagielka did well to contain Redmond and dispossess him and the Blues got forward to p[play in a couple of better crosses but no attempt on goal. Bolasie was fouled by Højbjerg, the kick curled in by Baines, winning a corner that was headed away but Everton were finally applying something akin to pressure on the home side.
But at the other end, Sims got well forward, a fantastic cross clipped away by Baines, then a shot parried by Stekeklenburg, crossed for Austin to finish Everton off but he could only stab it wide.
A deep cross and a fantastic point-blank save by Stekelenburg. Bolasie scampered away from the corner but refused to pass to Deulofeu, then lost the ball cheaply. Mirallas got behind the defence and pulled back for Coleman but his shot on goal was blocked as Valencia came on for Baines, Koeman's final change.
The young Sims, who had run Everton ragged, and set up the goal from Austin, was withdrawn to a standing ovation from the home side. Everton attacked with more desire but equal end-product as the home side tired into the last 5 minutes.
Bolasie tried to make something from the left but Southampton were not going to give up easily and were always ready to push Everton back into their own half. Mirallas went on a run but could not cross effectively. Long replaced Austin.
Deulofeu pulled out an excellent cross from the left that Valencia headed inches wide. Stekelenburg launched a great ball fro Lukakau who played Mirallas in for a run at the Saints goal but his return ball was too far ahead of Lukaku and the chance evaporated. Jagielka defended well to contain long as it became more and more frenetic.
Jagielka lumped the ball forward and it came down to Barry but his shot was tamely driven at Forster. The whistle finally went and Everton were soundly beaten from the kick-off, despite the flattering 1-0 scoreline, because it could easily have been far worse. Koeman failing miserably to do the business with the players he has at his disposal.
Southampton: Forster; Cedric, Fonte, Van Dijk, Bertrand; Højbjerg, Romeu, Ward-Prowse; Redmond (79' Clasie), Sims (84' McQueen), Austin (89' Long).
Subs not Used: Taylor, Yoshida, Rodriguez, Reed.
Everton: Stekelenburg, Baines (82' Valencia), Jagielka (c), Williams, Coleman, Barry, Gana, Bolasie, Barkley (70' Mirallas), Lennon (65' Deulofeu), Lukaku.
Subs not Used: Robles, Cleverley, Funes Mori, Holgate.
Referee: Craig Pawson
Everton make the trek to the south coast for the later televised game on Sky Sports 1 as they take on Southampton looking to kickstart their season back into life.
The Blues may not have won for seven games in the Premier League but somehow they remain in seventh place, level on points with Manchester United in sixth but five points adrift now of Tottenham who occupy the last guaranteed European qualification slot.
While Everton remain almost in touch with the top five, that disappointing recent sequence means that the cushion below them has diminished, to the point where defeat this weekend and wins for Watford and West Bromwich Albion would see the Blues drop to ninth.
Few Evertonians would argue that that would be representative of where there team is performance and results-wise, either, should things go “south” in the figurative sense when Ronald Koeman visits his old stomping ground at Southampton for the first time since he left St Mary's Stadium for Goodison Park in June.
The Dutchman was realistic in his assessment that both teams need the victory — the Saints to arrest a four-match winless run of their own in the League and potentially move into the top half; Everton to notch a sixth league win of the campaign and, hopefully, close that gap that has opened up above them to fifth spot. If Koeman's men are going to do it, however, they're going to need to show more guile and imagination than they did last weekend against Swansea, particularly if Southampton's extinguishing of Liverpool's goalscoring fire last Saturday is an indication of how well they're likely to defend.
Everton have only scored in five of their last eight in all competitions and only notched more than a single goal in one of those games, that was the 2-0 home won over West Ham. Apart from that, they've been fairly toothless up front and a far cry from the side that comfortably beat Middlesbrough 3-1 in September just days after hammering Sunderland 3-0 at the Stadium of Light.
A repeat of that latter scoreline — coincidentally the margin of the Blues' victory in this fixture last season — would go down a treat with the travelling Evertonians and go a long way to restoring confidence in Koeman's ability to manage his way out of the fallow period that followed his impressive start to life at Goodison Park.
Intriguingly in the context of his ongoing search for the best attacking combination and system, Koeman has his full complement of forward players available to him, as well as his first-choice defensive midfield axis now that both Gareth Barry and Idrissa Gueye have served one-match bans. Only Muhamed Besic and Matthew Pennington are on the injured list ahead of this weekend.
Who will get the nod to start is difficult to predict though. Aaron Lennon was handed a chance to impress last week but offered precious little wide on the right, while Kevin Mirallas was equally disappointing off the bench. Gerard Deulofeu was another player introduced in the second half as Everton chased a 1-0 deficit to Swansea and, while he didn't pull up any trees either, he may have done enough to earn a place in the starting XI this weekend. Either that or it's just his turn…
In defence, meanwhile, there are lingering questions regarding the form of captain Phil Jagielka who gave away his third penalty of the campaign with a clumsy challenge that gifted Gylfi Sigurdsson the opportunity to score the opening goal for the Swans last Saturday. Koeman dropped him following two poor displays against Manchester City and Burnley last month — he cited fatigue as being the reason but no one would be surprised if it was to give the veteran England international a chance to reset — but it remains to be seen if he moves back to the bench again tomorrow, perhaps in Ramiro Funes Mori's favour.
Southampton boss Claude Puel, meanwhile, looks set to be without one of his key attacking assets in Dusan Tadic. The winger has a broken nose and is rated as highly doubtful but the Frenchman expects Jose Font to shake off a foot injury and play.
He will be looking for what would be a fourth home win of the season following an emphatic 4-1 win over Crystal Palace in August, a narrow 1-0 success against Swansea in September and last month's 3-1 triumph over Burnley — three sides who Everton failed to beat, of course.
Such is the doubt creeping into a fanbase increasingly resigned to a long period of rebuilding and readjustment under Koeman that many Evertonians would be content with a
victory point from this one. The fact that there is more talent in the Blues' ranks than their record thus far suggests, however, that as long as they're capable of victory, there is hope they can pull one off.
Kick-off: 4:30pm Sunday, 27th September, 2016
Referee: Craig Pawson
Last time: Southampton 0 - 3 Everton
Predicted Line-up: Stekelenburg, Coleman, Williams, Jagielka, Baines, Barry, Gueye, Deulofeu, Barkley, Bolasie, Lukaku