An early strike from Richarlison was enough to earn Everton a first home Premier League win of 2021, but they were made to hang on at the end after a pretty flat performance.
The result ends a run of three successive home league defeats against a side in woeful form. You always felt a second goal would have killed things off, but the failure to take a grip of the game led to the inevitable nervy finish.
There were eyebrows raised when the team was announced with James Rodriguez, Robin OIsen, Tom Davies, Fabian Delph and Seamus Coleman not even in the squad, while youngsters Tyler Onyango, Ryan Astley and Kyle John were on the bench.
Carlo Ancelotti said the quintet had picked up minor injuries and with the Toffees facing West Brom on Thursday before travelling to Chelsea next Monday, decided not to risk them at Goodison.
There was some good news though, Allan was fit to start for the first time in 11 matches while Dominic Calvert-Lewin was also back after his cameo from the bench at Anfield last weekend.
The Toffees’ recent struggles at home have stemmed from poor starts, so the opening goal inside nine minutes was just what they needed.
Calvert-Lewin’s header found Gylfi Sigurdsson in space, he then threaded through a ball to Richarlison, who rounded Fraser Forster and slammed the ball into the corner.
Forster, recalled to the side in place of Alex McCarthy, did superbly well to push away a Richarlison header from Sigurdsson’s free-kick, though the Brazilian was flagged offside.
Southampton threatened Jordan Pickford’s goal for the first time when Nathan Redmond fizzed a volley well over after the ball had been cleared in his direction following a corner.
A clever free-kick routine saw Everton put the ball in the net again, but Michael Keane’s close-range finish from Mason Holgate’s header into the six-yard box was ruled out for offside.
The Toffees faded after that, with Southampton growing into the game without offering much of an attacking threat.
Given their recent struggles at home, I was happy with 1-0 at the break. Though a fast start was needed at the start of the second half.
Sigurdsson saw a free-kick deflected over at the start of the second period, but that fast start did not materialise and things once again became a bit scrappy.
Set pieces were Everton’s greatest threat and a long free-kick into the box again caused problems, with Ben Godfrey’s effort headed behind by Jannik Vestergaard. Minutes later, another Digne free-kick from the left was met by Keane who flashed a header wide.
Southampton’s first chance of the game also came from a set piece, with a near-post corner met by Mohammed Salisu who headed just over.
The match then descended into a bit of a mess, but the longer it went without Everton scoring that second goal the more nervy it became, as the Saints slowly began to build up some pressure in the closing stages.
You always felt they would get at least one chance ands they did with six minutes left, but Moussa Djenepo flashed wide when released into space inside the area.
A huge let off.
That finally prompted Carlo Ancelotti to look at his sparsely populated bench and make a change, with Alex Iwobi coming on for Gomes.
It didn’t have much of an impact as Southampton went even closer in the final minute of normal time. A corner wasn’t properly cleared and the ball fell for Vestergaard just outside the six yard box, but a sprawling Jordan Pickford did brilliantly to block his close-range shot.
Goalkeeper Forster went up for a corner in the final minute of stoppage-time as we all collectively hid behind the sofa, but the ball thankfully was cleared.
Just the one goal was enough in the end, with a welcome clean sheet, though on another day a better offensive team would have punished them.
But, it is a win that follows up last week’s derby result perfectly.
They don’t move up in the table, but a potentially vital four-point gap has been opened up between themselves and Tottenham and Aston Villa, they are level on points with Liverpool, and just two points behind West Ham, meaning victory at West Brom on Thursday lifts them into the top four.