SOUTHAMPTON 1 (Austin 1) – EVERTON 0
At least Everton are playing with a degree of consistency at the moment. Finally back to what is, nominally, their strongest starting eleven with Barry and Gueye once again conjoined in midfield and the ‘trusted’ back four of Baines, Jagielka, Williams and Coleman in place, they still managed to be played off the park. With only one win in their last eight Premier League outings and having conceded 7 goals and scored 1 in their last three, the players look weary, jaded and drained of all confidence. With Manchester United next up at Goodison, followed by the much more challenging visits of Arsenal and Liverpool, the season appears poised on a knife edge. Unless there is a marked improvement the fattest Christmas turkey might be Everton; dragged into the struggle to avoid the relegation carve up.
That Southampton‘s winner came inside 60 seconds was all the more shocking as it came after Everton had kicked off. They managed to lose possession instantly and had already conceded one shot on target before the goal. All inside a minute. So much for passing, for possession, for treating the ball, and ownership of it as a precious thing to be cherished.
Everton’s back four have a combined 181 international caps and over 1000 Premier League games between them. The ‘price’ of this experience is their average age, 31. Compared to most of the greatest defenders to have played the game, 31 is not old, but grasping for reasons, for an explanation, for the dreadful defending of the last few weeks many pundits have gone down this ageist avenue. We think this is wrong. Coached by a defender and manager of Koeman’s pedigree one would expect Everton’s back four to be solid and organized. They are not. They appear to have reverted to the un-coached Martinez shambles with confidence completely shot. In top level sport confidence and leadership are the ingredients that provide that little bit extra, the edge that gets a team over the winning line. Look at England Rugby, essentially the same players who prior to the arrival of coach Eddie Jones were a laughing stock, now sit on top of the world.
When Ronald Koeman joined Everton many expressed the view that this job was merely a stepping stone to bigger things; well that stepping stone has just turned into a land mine and the biggest test of his managerial career. And Mr Moshiri will undoubtedly be called upon to show the colour of his money soon.
SOUTHAMPTON (4-3-3): Forster; Cedric, Jose Fonte, Van Dijk, Bertrand; Hojbjerg, Romeu, Ward-Prowse; Sims (McQueen 84), Austin (Long 89), Redmond (Clasie 79)
Subs not used: Taylor, Yoshida, Rodriguez, Reed
EVERTON (4-2-3-1): Stekelenburg; Coleman, Jagielka, Williams, Baines (Valencia 83); Gueye, Barry; Lennon (Deulofeu 64), Barkley (Mirallas 70), Bolasie; Lukaku
Subs not used: Robles, Cleverley, Funes Mori, Holgate
Referee: Craig Pawson
Premier League: Saturday 11 February (15:00); Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium
Saturday 25 February (15:00); Sunderland at Goodison