Southampton 0 Everton 0

baines southampton

Look on the bright side, at least we can’t complain that Everton dominated this one but just failed to score.

It has become extremely boring writing that story every week, so the Blues very generously offered up something a bit different this time, performing, in the words of L’Equipe, ‘like 10 pounds of shite in a five pound bag’.

In the first half at least it looked as if the outfield players had all agreed not to show Steven Naismith up. Sadly, we are sort of getting used to games passing the Scotland international by, but on this occasion he was matched by more or less the rest of the midfield as well as the strikers.

If we were to draw a parallel between the first 45 minutes at St. Mary’s and perhaps your job, imagine a Friday afternoon when all the managers have already sloped off early and you have had three pints of Stella with your lunch. Any fellow anaesthetists will understand exactly what we are talking about there.

Southampton, despite the shock of Nigel Adkins’ death – oh, really? – were quite good indeed. The Saints, with Mauricio Pochettino in charge for the first time, ably assisted by someone who looked like Mike the Cool Person from The Young Ones, did all the basics, the man-stuff, far better than the Blues. They won tackles and headers, held the ball up and made runs for each other. That gave them the – here come the ‘we know this is cliché’ marks again – ‘platform’ to rag an oddly passive Everton all over the place.

Ricky Lambert in particular, the striker who looks like Donal McIntyre’s cousin from Craggy Island, had a stack of chances but was continually denied by a thankfully inspired Tim Howard.

Everton’s only effort on target in the first half was Naismith’s snapshot straight at fat tramp Artur Boruc. The fact that the Blues hardly troubled the ropy keeper who looks like he should be lying on the his back while Jim Watt says that David Price really needs to start stepping up in class now, says all you need to know about arguably their worst 45 minutes of the season.

Everyone expected some sort of reaction from Everton after the break and five minutes in they produced their first decent move of the match. Seamus Coleman, easily the most positive player in the first half, broke down the right and hung a cross up to the far post. Fellaini’s initial header was blocked but the ball broke again for the Belgian who forced a decent save from Boruc at the near post.

Five minutes later Coleman was forced off with a thigh injury, replaced by Victor Anichebe. Phil Neville went to right-back, Fellaini dropped deeper into midfield and the whole team instantly looked better.

Anichebe has looked Everton’s most lively attacker recently and again his movement up front made a world of difference. Indeed, on the hour it looked as if his introduction might be decisive when he found space on the left and squared the ball perfectly for the inrushing Jelavic. Unfortunately for the out-of-sorts striker though, it looked as if someone had tied his bootlaces together as he miskicked horrifically.

To add to his his frustration the Croatian was replaced six minutes later by the returning Kevin Mirallas.

There’s a temptation to over-analyse players’ performances, especially strikers, when they aren’t playing well. Perhaps over-sympathise too. If Jelavic has got anything about him he just needs to do his job, work hard, and eventually he will start scoring again. You watch someone like Fernando Torres, for instance, looking like he’s living out some great Greek tragedy in his head every time he sets foot on the pitch and you just feel like saying ‘grow up, knobhead, or go and get a fucking proper job if you don’t like kicking a ball any more’.

Everton’s bright spell continued with Boruc making a good save from Anichebe and then Mirallas blasting wide after wrong-footing Maya Yoshida, but then they faded once again and the game limped to its rather unsatisfactory conclusion.

At which point Bill Kenwright received a text from ESPN that said simply: THAT’S WHY.

Everton 3 Southampton 1

Like an impromptu trip out in Uncle Jimmy’s Silver Shadow, this game began full of nervous excitement for Southampton but quickly descended into bewilderment and dismay after 13 minutes of frenzied attacks.

This Everton, as we have established, are kind of boss when they field a full strength side and take matches seriously. However, for all their brilliant football, which is attracting praise from all quarters, it does always feel as if it can be undone by the most straightforward attacks from less sophisticated opponents. At times we are almost like the fella with the twirly sword who Harrison Ford shoots in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Newcastle showed that, Swansea threatened to at times, and Southampton opened the scoring at Goodison when Gaston Ramirez, totally unmarked in the six-yard box, headed home a deep corner that somehow completely deceived Tim Howard despite the rather honest nature of its back-post loopiness.

The rather likeable Nigel Adkins, who always looks like he is on the verge of casually mentioning ‘when Christ first spoke to him’, did his homework and decided that the best course of action was to push up on the centre-halves and try and force Everton to ‘go long’ as often as possible. As a result, the Toffees struggled to settle into any early rhythm and could have easily gone two down when Jay Rodriguez simply outpaced the horrible slow Johnny Heitinga in pursuit of a punt downfield, only to slide his low shot narrowly wide.

Southampton looked genuinely ‘lively’ then, and to say that Leon Osman’s opening goal on 25 minutes settled the crowd’s nerves would be something of an understatement. Adkins admitted that the Saints’ biggest worry was about the threat of Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar down the left, but it was on the opposite flank where the damage was done. Kevin Mirallas and Seamus Coleman showed endless pace and endeavour throughout and it was the Belgian’s wicked cross that narrowly eluded the returning Nikica Jelavic only to drop perfectly for Leon Osman to plant a shot into the roof of the net.

After that, Everton were unstoppable. On 32 minutes Mirallas picked up a ball deep in his own half, played a one-two with Marouane Fellaini and then slipped a pass through for Jelavic who, rather atypically, drove into the box and placed a low, left-footed shot across Paolo Gazzaniga, finding the bottom corner of the net. File under ‘clinical’.

Six minutes later Jelavic scored his second with the sort of finish we are more accustomed to seeing from him. Coleman did brilliantly, taking the ball from a throw-in, pushing it past the defender on one side and running around the other before hanging a cross up to the back post. Yes, that does sound quite Lawrenson, but there’s only so many ways of describing this stuff without the occasional cliché creeping in. Jelavic’s powerful header from an awkward angle was over the line before Gazzaniga, bucking in the air like a hooked marlin, got a glove on it.

In fairness to the young keeper he made a number of decent saves, leaving the visitors at least a glimmer of hope throughout the second half. Who knows, if Ramirez hadn’t put the ball just wide after neatly lifting it over the exposed Howard, or Ricky Lambert’s header had drifted just the other side of the post, there might still have been a nervy end to a match in which Everton were once again the better side by an enormous margin.

It’s difficult to know whether we are actually conceding more chances than usual at the moment or whether it’s more that we are so dominant and playing such attractive football that whenever the opponents get a sight of goal it stands out because it just seems downright unfair now that they could actually score.

Thankfully they never and the Super Blues now sit a rather resplendent second in the league. It’s pointless speculating about where it will all end in terms of league position because there is so much of the season left to play and far sterner opponents to face than Swansea City and Southampton. Just enjoy the present aceness for what it is. Which is ace, obviously.

Quickly, going back to Jimmy Saville, if there’s one serious lesson that must be taken from this whole sordid episode, it’s that if someone looks like creepy old nonce case then they almost certainly are.

Some have said that it’s just a shame that he is no longer around to face these accusations, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do the next best thing. Who is up for throwing a brick through the window of Stoke Mandeville?