It was only a one-word expletive but, coming from the mouth of a manager facing an eighth defeat in nine Premier League matches, Ralph Hasenhüttl’s immediate reaction to two late chances Southampton squandered at Everton was the sound of despair, anger and disbelief.
“We are missing the final punch,” Hasenhüttl lamented afterwards. But Southampton’s opponents keep landing their blows. Richarlison’s latest early, precision strike brought Everton their first home league win of 2021 and moved Carlo Ancelotti’s team to within two points of fourth-placed West Ham with a game in hand.
“We have the opportunity to be in the top four for two or three days,” said the Everton manager, who visits West Bromwich Albion on Thursday. “We would like to touch the position even if it is just for a few days.”
He and Hasenhüttl are looking in opposite directions. Southampton had created little at Goodison Park but should have taken a point when first Moussa Djenepo sidefooted wide with only Jordan Pickford to beat in the 84th minute and then, in stoppage time, Jannik Vestergaard had another glorious chance to level after a spot of pin-ball inside the Everton penalty area. Pickford denied him with a brave, crucial save from close range and Southampton’s hopes of taking only a second point from the last 27 available were gone.
A seven-point gap between themselves and Fulham offers only limited comfort on such a damaging run. “We know the situation we are in,” the Southampton manager insisted. “We are short of goals and the final punch is not there, but I subbed three academy players tonight because of our injury situation and not many Premier League teams have to do that. It is not so easy to find the way back to where we have been but you can be sure we will find the way out.”
For Ancelotti, this was the result if not the performance he needed following Everton’s long-awaited win at Liverpool last time out. A nervous finale from the hosts was to be expected as they held on to a slender lead for their first home win of the year.
After three successive league defeats at Goodison, aesthetics will not concern the Everton manager although there remains a stark contrast between his team’s performances home and away. “It was a really important win,” Ancelotti said. “We worked hard, we were strong defensively, and in the end we deserved to win.”
Everton led from their first meaningful attack. It was a fine goal produced by a combination of steel and silk. Dominic Calvert-Lewin, making a first start in four games following a hamstring injury, won a towering header against Mohammed Salisu as the pair challenged for a Pickford clearance. Calvert-Lewin proved too strong for Salisu and James Ward-Prowse in winning the second ball too.
A touch off his shoulder dropped to Gylfi Sigurdsson, who threaded a perfectly-weighted pass behind Vestergaard for Richarlison to round Fraser Forster and score from an acute angle. It was the Brazil international’s fifth goal in five games and a finish that confirmed the striker’s confidence has been fully restored. That said, he could and perhaps should have doubled his tally before the interval.
The visitors conceded a series of free-kicks in dangerous wide positions and flirted with danger at each one. Their offside trap worked on the first occasion, catching Richarlison straying too early as he sprinted for Sigurdsson’s set piece and tested Forster with a diving header.
They just got away with Everton’s next free-kick from the right, although that was mainly due to VAR and a training ground routine confusing those in blue as well as red. Sigurdsson shaped to take the free-kick but left it for Lucas Digne, who floated a delivery to the back post where Mason Holgate headed back across goal and Michael Keane finished bravely. Holgate, however, had strayed offside by the time Digne eventually delivered.
Everton’s third free-kick routine, again from Sigurdsson on the right, should have brought a second goal for Ancelotti’s side. This time Richarlison did escape Southampton’s offside trap but, launching himself at the cross, he miscued from close range.
Without the luxury of a second goal Everton were never comfortable against a Southampton side that refused to let them settle on the ball and carried a threat of their own from set pieces. It was only in the closing stages, however, that they seriously threatened an equaliser but Hasenhüttl was left to curse his team’s wastefulness and ongoing slide towards trouble.