Blues edge Saints to go fourth

, 29 December, 0comments  |  Jump to most recent
Everton 2 - 1 Southampton

Everton rebounded from their Boxing Day defeat to Sunderland with a hard-earned victory over Southampton, one that sees them finish 2013 in fourth place and on pace for a coveted Champions League place.

The Blues were pushed all the way by an impressive Saints side who achieved the rare distinction of leaving Goodison Park having enjoyed the greater share of possession than Roberto Martinez's men — 55% to 45% — but who were undone by Romelu Lukaku's winner, his first goal in six games.

With Phil Jagielka a surprise absentee with a hamstring strain and both Gareth Barry and Tim Howard suspended, Martinez was forced to make changes to his starting XI but was aided by the return to action of Leighton Baines after a month on the sidelines with a broken toe. The Spaniard restored Baines to left back and pushed Byan Oviedo forward, preferring the Costa Rican to Steven Pienaar who was rested along with Kevin Mirallas, Steven Naismith getting the nod in right midfield.

It was Everton's other fullback, Seamus Coleman, who ignited the afternoon with a scintillating run down the right flank, capped off with a stunning strike from the angle that flew into the top corner to give the home side the lead after eight minutes.

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Southampton responded, looking to exploit the space in front of the Blues' back four normally filled by Barry's presence but they barely threatened Joel Robles' goal until four minutes before half time when Adam Lallana out-smarted Sylvain Distin but lashed his shot wide.

The second period was more end-to-end and became more fractious but the goal that Southampton's pressing had threatened arrived in unexpected fashion with 20 minutes to go. Substitute Gaston Ramirez tried his luck with a wicked shot from distance that presumably swerved on its way to goal as the ball flew between the hands of Robles and bulged the Gwladys Street net.

Martinez reacted with an immediate substitution, putting Mirallas on for Leon Osman but it was an earlier change, that of Pienaar for Oviedo, that reaped the dividends in the 74th minute. The South African released James McCarthy with a lovely ball forward and the Irishman found Lukaku with a flicked pass to the right with the outside of his boot, one the Belgian striker swept home brilliantly from around 12 yards.

Marshalled impressively by Antolin Alcaraz and Sylvain Distin, Everton's defence held firm for the remaining quarter of an hour and ensured a winnin finale to 2013. Liverpool's defeat at Chelsea meant that the Blues leapfrogged their local rivals into fourth and will travel to Stoke City with confidence on New Year's Day.

Quotes or other material sourced from ToffeeWeb Match Reports

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