A highly anticipated match took place in Merseyside yesterday, with relegation favourites Everton and Southampton going head to head. The problems didn’t stop for the Toffees, but the Saints took the opportunity to find their feet and start to climb out of the drop zone.
Starting off with Everton, it’s safe to say that the club is in severe danger of not only being relegated, but also being torn apart from within. After last season’s great escape, the Everton faithful decided to take action into their own hands, which resulted in Moshiri Kenwright and the rest of the club’s board of directions being advised to stay away from Goodison Park for safety reasons. Despite the rising tensions, it was clear that the Toffees were beginning to sink.
On the other hand, Southampton entered the game after a shock 2-0 win over Manchester City in midweek, with arguably their best performance of the season. The signings of Orsic and Lemina also gave a slight boost of morale among the Saints, who were desperate to take advantage of the horror show on Merseyside and escape Goodison Park with 3 points.
With the board nowhere in sight and Iwobi starting despite reports saying that he was out for weeks, the Evertonians seemed positive that this game couldn’t be lost. Coleman returned to the side and the transition to a back 3 (or back 5) was a controversial option for the man whose seat is flaming, Frank Lampard. Southampton’s Nathan Jones threw no surprises and lined up in his usual formation with Che Adams leading the line, and record transfer Orsic starting on the bench.
The match played out exactly like everyone was expecting, with high pressure and intensity for the home side, and the visitors playing long balls over the slow Everton defence, with Edozie being lively in the first minutes. Throughout the match, Godfrey was constantly on him and the pair had a good battle on the wing. Gray and Onana seemed the most alive for Everton with the latter having one of his best games since he came to England – getting rewarded for that performance with a goal in the 39th minute after Gray’s corner. With Everton struggling to score, set-pieces play a vital role for them this season, and this was the second consecutive goal coming from a corner. Onana found space and “bullied” his opponent in the box and headed it past Bazunu for the Blues to go wild. It was a questionable decision for the Saints to appoint Elyounoussi with the task the marking of the Everton giant who easily outmuscled his opponent. After the goal, Everton were rocking as the intensity was rising – looking for a second before the break as they aimed to finish the half on a high. Southampton did not pose any threats throughout the duration of the 1st half, but Ward-Prowse’s shot in the last minute of the first half was saved by Pickford, in a warning sign of what was about to happen in the second half.
The strings of balance changed instantly in the 2nd half, with the Saint’s captain James Ward-Prowse levelling things up after a brilliant piece of skill inside Everton’s box to equalise. An early start on the 2nd half was exactly what Nathan Jones and his team needed, and the captain produced. With the score at 1-1 both teams were afraid to either attack, or have the ball too much, and that showed as there was mistake after mistake and long ball after long ball, with only one player from each team trying to get the ball on their feet, Onana and Ward-Prowse. Everton had a big chance on the 55th minute-mark, when Calvert-Lewin’s shot was stopped by Bazunu’s crossbar after a deflection. Southampton fans welcomed Adam Armstrong as he returned for the Saints, instantly testing Godfrey’s endurance, but the 25-year old defender is well placed to stop the striker’s effort. The former Norwich man however, went from hero to zero when he missed Everton’s biggest chance of the match in the 70th minute. With a good cross whipped in from the left, Bazunu was left in no man’s land but Godfrey couldn’t finish at the back post to an empty net. In matches like these, those are the chances that cost and 8 minutes later the ball is set for a free-kick outside Pickford’s box. What happens next is inevitable, and the best free-kick taker in the world curls the ball over the wall and beats England’s number one to give the visitors the lead. A second goal for the Southampton skipper and all three points seem to be going down south, in an exciting performance by James Ward-Prowse and a brace to give his team 3 vital points in the aim of survival.
In the Everton camp, the panic is prevailing and Lampard subs on Simms in an effort to salvage at least a point from this “must-win” contest. Late corners offer nothing nor the pointless possession of the Toffees and Goodison Park is bombarded by “boos” when the full time whistle goes. It’s a massive 3 points for the Saints, a devastating defeat for Everton and now Frank Lampard has one foot out of the door at Goodison Park. With the transfer period already halfway through, the teams battling relegation spend money left, right and centre to find the missing links. Southampton getting a player like Orsic and Wolves getting one like Cunha are messages to the rest that regardless of the current situation at the clubs, they are still in a position that they can attract class players like the two mentioned. But then there’s Everton – the biggest failed project over the last few years in English Football. With tensions rising, Lampard on the way out, the fans furious with the board and no players coming in, it will definitely be a tough few months for the Toffees. They can only hope that somehow, someway they can find the Spirit of the Blues again. Until then, time is running out.