McNeil fired into the roof of the net from a tight angle as Frank Lampard’s side came from behind to claim the three points. Conor Coady’s first Everton goal had made it 1-1 just minutes earlier to cancel out Joe Aribo’s strike right at the start of the second period.
The win move Everton up to 11th in the table, just three points outside the top five and level with a certain team in red from across the park.
Some first half thoughts:
- Frank Lampard made three changes from the win against West Ham last time out. Jordan Pickford was fit again to replace Asmir Begovic, while Seamus Coleman stepped in for the injured Nathan Patterson. McNeil also came in for Anthony Gordon, perhaps with Gordon’s exertions for England U21s during the international break in mind.
- We would never expect anything less, but credit once again has to go to the travelling Evertonians who made the long trip to St Mary’s. In the midst of a cost of living crisis and a train strike making things even harder, they somehow managed to make the journey down to the south coast in huge numbers and backed the team throughout. The sight of the supporters serenading Lampard and the players with ‘Spirit of the Blues’ is something could get used to.
- Everton started brightly, with Alex Iwobi breaking down the left and crossing for Amadou Onana, who couldn’t get a proper contact on the ball under pressure from a Southampton defender.
- Demarai Gray made a fantastic start to the game, but his lack of cutting edge - a familiar failing - let him down at times. He sent a free-kick from distance just wide, before a dangerous cross from the right was just palmed away from the lurking Coady by goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu. He also went on a mazy run before firing straight at Bazunu from the edge of the box.
- In contrast, the Saints’ only real chance in the opening 25 minutes fell to Che Adams, who poked wide from a tight angle under pressure from Jordan Pickford after some bright build-up play by Stuart Armstrong. Armstrong also had a deflected volley from 12 yards comfortably taken by the Toffees goalkeeper.
Second half thoughts:
- After pretty much dominating the first half it was typical that Southampton would score early in the second. It was poor all round, a cheap giveaway by Gana and no pressure on the ball all the way to the back of the net. The bad habits from last season still linger.
- BUT this is also the new Everton, an Everton with greater steel than before. It was a dangerous free-kick again by Gray and a wonderful header back by Onana, with Coady meeting it with a sweet volley from six yards.
- The second goal was a belter. Iwobi’s cross beating Onana and finding McNeil, who blasted the ball into the roof of the net from a tight angle. The former Burnley man needed that as some have harshly in my view, questioned his purchase. But it is easy to forget he is just 21 and after the confidence boost of his goal looked much more threatening.
- Last season Everton would have 100% folded, but this team has an edge not seen since the David Moyes days. Southampton pushed and pushed but rarely blew the Everton house down. But when they did they found Pickford - England’s undisputed No.1 in fine form, with his superb save to deny Adam Armstrong are particular highlight. The only other real opportunity of note fell to Duje Caleta-Car, who volleyed over at the far post following a free kick into the box.
- There is real momentum building with this team. Those outside have relished taking pot shots at Lampard and his players, but the supporters have recognised the direction of travel. There will be plenty of ups and downs, the rebuild is far from complete, but this feels like a team the fans can fully get behind again. After the misery of recent seasons that is something to be genuinely excited about.