Saints remain without a point away from home, having surrendered a 1-0 lead to lose 3-1 at Everton.
Nigel Adkins made the surprising switch to a diamond midfield, with Gaston Ramirez starting at the tip behind front two Jay Rodriguez and Gaston Ramriez. Steven Davis took up the holding role, with James Ward Prowse on the right and Adam Lallana on the left. Injured Morgan Schneiderlin was conspicuous by his absence.
Everton took a while to find their groove, with Saints capitalising early on. Maya Yoshida helped win a corner, following a terrific run forward. Lallana floated the resulting set-piece to the back post, straight to Gaston Ramirez, who nodded in unmarked from close range. The first 20 minutes were very end-to-end. Everton played direct football to begin with, with Saints creating chances on the break. On 12 minutes, Jay Rodriguez had a great oppourtunity to double to visitors lead, having peeled off on the right. He missed his one-on-one with Tim Howard however. If he had scored perhaps things would have been different.
The Toffees really stepped it up during the latter part of the first period. Their speed of thought and movement were too much for Saints. The midfield that created so many chances early on wasn’t quite as adept at protecting the back four. Davis did a capable job as the anchor man, but he could have been given more help. Everton were relentless, attacking from a number of different avenues. They were especially effective down the flanks. Frazer Richardson and Nathaniel Clyne were always going to be up against it without the men in front of them tracking back to support them. Leon Osman scored at Goodison against Saints for the second time in his career on 25 minutes, firing in from close range, following a Kevin Mirrallas cross. Mirrallas was involved in the second too, playing in Nickica Jelavic, who placed a low shot into the corner of the net. Jelavic grabbed on 3rd
on 38 minutes, heading past Paulo Gazzaniga, who got a hand on the ball before it trickled into the net. Everton could have had more before the break, with Marouane Fellani rattling the crossbar.
Saints were a lot better after half time, although that was partly due to Everton playing with less intensity. On 49 minutes, Rodriguez tested Tim Howard with a low-drive, following great build-up play from Rickie Lambert and others. Everton inevitably came back into the game, but couldn’t quite kill it off. Ramirez came agonisingly close to scoring a second on 68, but his dinking shot whistled just past the post. The game fizzled out slightly towards the end, but Saints continued to play some pleasing football. Rickie Lambert had a header tipped wide by Howard late on.
No doubt the doom-mongers will be out in force after another defeat, but Saints fans have no reason to be too upset. Everton are 2nd
on merit, and have dominated the likes of Man United and Newcastle at Goodison this season. It was always going to be difficult to get a result. People will no doubt point the finger at Adkins for playing too many attacking players, which left us exposed at times. Fair enough perhaps, but had Rodriguez and Ramriez finished off their chances, we could have nicked a point, and Adkins would have been hailed as a genius. There’s no guarantee Everton wouldn’t have comfortably won the game had we packed the midfield with defensive minded players. They are a top side and would have found a way to create chances. Schneiderlin would have almost certainly made a big difference too. Credit to Adkins for going for it and trying something different. You can afford little margin for error in games like this, and unfortunately we just weren’t ruthless enough. On the plus side, Yoshida is coming along very well, and looks to have the makings of a top centre half. Ward-Prowse and Davis had their moments in midfield. Rodriguez will get criticism for missing a sitter, but should receive praise for his movement which got him in those positions in the first place. He will come good. Thankfully the fixture list is looking a lot more favourable now.
Everton: Howard, Coleman, Jagielka, Heitinga, Baines, Neville, Osman (Distin 90), Mirallas (Oviedo 80), Fellani, Pienaar, Jelavic (Anichebe 77)
Saints: Gazzaniga, Richardson, Fonte, Yoshida, Clyne (Reeves 80), Davis, Ward-Prowse, Lallana (Chaplow 89), Ramirez, Rodriguez (Mayuka 80) Lambert