Amid the euphoria permeating throughout the King Power Stadium away end on Saturday, Marco Silva would be forgiven if he felt a tinge of regret.
While Silva and his side warrant enormous credit for emerging victorious from one of the Premier League’s tougher away grounds, until the club’s 23-year wait for silverware ends, the ill feeling from cup defeats like Tuesday night will still linger like a bad smell.
The visit of the Saints offered a perfect opportunity to build on last weekend’s 3-0 home triumph over Fulham, so for the manager to make seven changes to a winning side looked hazardous to say the least, and so it transpired.
In the knowledge that the Blues’ reward would have been a return to Leicester in round four, Silva may well be further aggrieved, having proved to himself on Saturday that he has a side capable of outfoxing the Foxes on their own turf.
Given the EFL Cup is widely acknowledged as the least important domestic competition, or even as near-irrelevant to some clubs, some alterations to the side could have been forgiven.
But by naming a side containing multiple players who have been used sparingly this campaign, namely Ademola Lookman (who, in fairness, played well), Kieran Dowell, and the shambolic Maarten Stekelenburg, the lack of chemistry and understanding among Tuesday night’s starting XI was as exasperating as it was inevitable.
For a club struggling horribly to rid themselves of an ignominious trophy drought, it smacked almost of audacity from the manager to hold a key chance to end the barren run in such little regard.
Not that Silva should be held entirely responsible; the languid, careless penalty which Richarlison lazily lobbed into the Lower Gwladys encapsulated a performance littered with errors from an Everton side who were easily second-best.
It was a story Evertonians have seen far too often. Eight third-round EFL Cup defeats in the last 11 years, including losses to lower-league opposition in Brentford, Norwich City and Leeds United, are simply inexplicable considering the Toffees have yet to add this trophy to the cabinet in their 140-year history.
It is all the more gruelling to stomach this time having witnessed repeatedly the terrific potential this side possesses. A dazzling attack spearheaded by Brazilians Bernard and Richarlison, and top-scorer Gylfi Sigurðsson, an improving defence led by the uncompromising Kurt Zouma, and England’s first-choice goalkeeper in Jordan Pickford; this is a far cry from last season’s hodgepodge of individuals playing with such sterility.
In Bernard and new full-back Lucas Digne, Everton may have their best left-flank partnership since the halcyon days of Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar. Silva has, on Saturday’s evidence, finally found a way to accommodate Sigurðsson and his two South Americans in the same team, and with Seamus Coleman, André Gomes and Yerry Mina set to return from their respective injuries after the international break, it could be anything but a bleak midwinter for the Blues.
But after such obvious tactical lapses against Southampton, Silva will be under scrutiny when the FA Cup, a competition Everton have suffered third-round exits from in the last two years, returns in January.
A more prestigious tournament than the EFL Cup, albeit somewhat devalued of late, it is crucial that Silva’s FA Cup team-sheet signals a statement of intent, rather the apathetic groan emanating from Tuesday’s line-up.
He still retains a great deal of good will from many supporters, but the easiest way to appease a restless fan-base will be to win a trophy, and judging by his comments on Friday, Silva is well aware of this:
“[I am] 100 per cent with them [the fans] in this frustration. It’s not a matter of if the coach makes changes or not. At the end, I tried to keep some consistency in our back line at the moment. To be fair, the three positions we changed clearly was behind the striker.
“I know what they [the fans] expect - to go through in the competitions, to try to fight for some titles as well, and when I prepare something, it is to win and to go through.
“It is not just to give some options for these [fringe] players to play or to see them in a game.”
Silva has every right to be lavished with praise for his tactical nous on Saturday; with trips to Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City following the trip to the East Midlands, it was paramount that he picked up his first away win at the King Power, and he patently knew that, too.
But he has just as much of a right to be chastised for Tuesday’s debacle, and if he can learn from these mistakes, Everton will only strengthen even further, and days as wonderful as Saturday will become less of a rarity.