Winning Ugly: The Good News
It might not have been pretty, but Everton's three points on Saturday came predominately from dedication, hard work, and being difficult to play against, none of which has been the case regularly for the Toffees this season.
Everton managed to limit the chances of a good Saints side, with Phil Jagielka and John Stones once again proving their worth at the center of defense. With the clock running down, the Toffees found a way to keep Southampton from generating a dangerous last second chance, which is worth celebrating given the way much of the season has gone.
Effective use of set pieces, another hallmark of less than perfect victories, also appeared somewhat uncharacteristically for Everton. Phil Jagielka's early corner kick goal made Southampton pay for poor set piece marking and gave Everton a goal on a day that they were going to struggle to find one any other way.
After 30-plus matches of lacking the necessary grit to pull out results like Saturday's, Evertonians ought to be encouraged by the weekend's performance.
Winning Ugly: The Bad News
Of course, winning matches in this manner is not all rainbows and sunshine. The Toffees were outpossessed and outpassed by the Saints at home, a development that surely will have Roberto Martinez concerned.
For as sound defensively as Everton was for most of the match, the team created very little going forward. Once again, Ross Barkley failed to make a significant impact on the match, even after being shifted back to the middle after Martinez experimented with playing him out wide earlier this season. Leon Osman put in a decent shift as a fill-in left midfielder, but no one will be mistaking the 33-year-old for a winger any time soon.
Injuries certainly played their part in the struggles (particularly Romelu Lukaku's, about which I will say more shortly), but putting together so few dangerous attacks in a home match against a non-top four team is discouraging.
How Much Trouble Would Everton Be in Without Romelu Lukaku?
In all fairness to Arouna Kone, who put in a lot of effort on Saturday, he never particularly looked like scoring. It is easy to say Kone is still working his way back from a terrible injury, but it is important to remember that even before getting injured last season, the Ivorian was pedestrian at best. He simply is not a legitimate answer at striker.
Steven Naismith will run through walls for the club and is a solid finisher, but he does not have the necessary hold-up and playmaking ability to be a regular solution at striker either.
It is amazing to consider how reliant the Toffees have become on a player who has come under so much criticism this season and could very easily have not returned to Merseyside this year. Yet, after several strong performances from Lukaku over the last two months, Evertonians have been reminded how important the big Belgian is to Everton after being forced to cope with his absence.
A toothless performance without Lukaku has served to make clearer the need for additions to the squad this summer. Everton is clearly in need not only of more depth at striker, but also another playmaker in the midfield, as without Lukaku to create space, the club's midfield looked bereft of ideas.
Aaron Lennon Proves His Worth Again
Lennon did not get the ball frequently enough to make a major difference offensively on Saturday. Ultimately, his ability to contribute offensively is out of his hands to an extent, as he needs the team to have the ball for him to be able to make a difference.
But, Lennon still played a crucial role in Everton's victory over Southampton. Since arriving on Merseyside, he has brought exactly what Everton needs from a winger--pace, width, and a willingness to run.
When the Toffees have the ball, Lennon's pace and width keep defenses honest. Opposing defenses must always be ready for a ball over the top down his wing, because there will always be a danger of Lennon getting in behind a sleeping defense. This creates space for other attack-minded players.
Perhaps even more importantly though, Lennon has been an absolutely tireless worker defensively. His willingness to get back defensively gives Seamus Coleman a better opportunity to get forward, as well as making Everton more difficult to break down in tight games like Saturday's.
If Lennon continues these kind of performances for the rest of the season, Martinez would be wise to find a way to keep the English winger at Everton.
Everton Officially Out of the Relegation Battle
The Toffees sit 11 points above the drop zone with only seven matches to go and six teams between themselves and danger.
Everton would have to struggle to nearly catastrophic proportions over the remainder of the season to fall back into danger, so it seems safe to say that the club has officially done enough to stay safe. Of course, the fact that it took the team this long to reach this point is distressing, but it is good to have such concerns finally in the rear-view mirror.
- Tim Howard has come under a lot of criticism this season, some fair and some unfair, but his early save against Graziano Pelle shaped the match. His 6th minute save kept the match 0-0 until Jagielka gave the Toffees a lead ten minutes later.
- Is there any player more important to Everton than James McCarthy?
- How high can Everton go? This win took them to 11th in the table, five points back of Stoke City and West Ham United. Could the Toffees catch either club and finish in the top half of the table?