Everton 2 Southampton 1

Clive Brunskill

Spectacular goals from Romelu Lukaku and Seamus Coleman gave Everton a hard-earned 2-1 win against a diligent Southampton at Goodison Park and lifted them back into the Premier League’s top four.

Lukaku’s 74th minute winner came just three minutes after Gaston Ramirez had cancelled out Coleman’s spectacular ninth minute opener and seemingly secured a point for the visitors.

It was the perfect tonic after Sunderland had ruined Christmas by rudely winning 1-0 at Goodison on Boxing Day.

Despite the bright winter skies up above there was tension in the air among the supporters. The Everton bubble had been abruptly burst by Sunderland and lying in wait were a Southampton side who are enjoying a fine season and coming off the back of a impressive 3-0 win at Cardiff.

Add to the fact Everton were without Tim Howard, Gareth Barry and Phil Jagielka, you can understand why this was a day for grinding out the result by any means necessary.

With injuries, suspensions and a tough schedule starting to bite, Roberto Martinez opted to rest Steven Pienaar and Kevin Mirallas, with Steven Naismith and Ross Barkley coming in. Leighton Baines also returned, with Bryan Oviedo pushed forward alongside Naismith and Barkley. Joel Robles was in goal instead of the suspended Tim Howard.

After huffing and puffing against Sunderland but giving the impression they could play all night on not score, it wastypical that the Toffees would go ahead with virtually their first chance of the game.

Coleman drove towards the penalty area from the right flank, evaded a couple of chances before driving a fizzing effort that flew past Kelvin Davis and into the top corner.

The Irishman now has five goals this season and, following his strike at Swansea earlier this month, appears to be building his very own goal of the season competition.

Ten minutes later Naismith claimed a penalty when he was shoved over by Dejan Lovren but referee, Mark Clattenburg, back at Goodison for the first time since 2007, was unmoved.

Robles, making his first Premier League start for Everton, then saved well from Rickie Lambert, though the offside flag had gone up anyway.

Boyhood Everton fan Adam Lallana had the best opportunity in the first half for the visitors, a lovely first touch taking it away from Sylvain Distin and Leon Osman before flashing a volley just wide.

Southampton improved after the break; with the talented Luke Shaw firing in a dangerous cross from the left that James McCarthy did well to clear.

Barkley fired just wide at the other end, but that was a rare foray forward for the hosts, with Southampton pushing for an equaliser.

Despite that pressure Joel had not really been tested, with a deflected off-target Jay Rodriquez effort their best opening.

However, you could sense a goal was coming and when Southampton did get a shot on target, from 30 yards via Gaston Ramirez’s left foot, Joel fluffed his lines, allowing the swerving effort to squirm between his fingers and into the net.

The momentum was with the visitors at this stage so it is with huge credit to the side and testament to the ruthless streak inside them this season that they roused themselves and re-took the lead three minutes later.

Substitute Steven Pienaar picked out McCarthy’s excellent forward run, with the Irishman drawing the defender before laying it across to Lukaku in space, the Belgian’s first-time rasping finish powering into the roof of the net.

Southampton kept pushing for an equaliser without really creating much, while Lukaku at the other end drew a smart stop from Davis.

There was much relief at the final whistle as Everton banished the memory of that freak loss to the Black Cats and climbed back into the top four, even if it could only for a few hours.

This wasn’t the most fluent, most convincing or most entertaining victory we’ve enjoyed this season, but that is exactly why it is significant.

Everton simply had to bounce back from the Sunderland game as the race for a top four place will not look kindly on sides that lose successive matches.

The fact Southampton were one of the most impressive teams to visit Goodison so far this season also makes this a pleasing win. Mauricio Pocchetino has got them organised this season and their sprinklings of quality on top mean they will easily secure a top ten spot this season, if not more.

Back to Everton though and it was a pleasing way to end an eventful year. 2013 has seen the joy and pain of an FA Cup run, another top five finish, a manager depart, another arrive, and a memorable autumn that has us dreaming of an even better 2014.

Happy New Year everyone.

Robles 6 Coleman 8 Distin 7 Alcaraz 8 Baines 6 Oviedo 7 (Pienaar 7) Osman 6 (Mirallas 6) McCarthy 7 Naismith 7 Barkley 7 Lukaku 7

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