Everton against Southampton was always going to be a significant encounter given the positions of the two sides in the table, but a chaotic and furious build up has turned it into potentially one of the most significant matches in the Toffees’ recent history.
Rarely have I seen a week like it – and for an Everton fan that is saying something.
Years of under-performance both on and off the pitch have brought us to this point, with fans once again mobilising to welcome the team coach and back the players in the hope we can see a repeat of the great escape witnessed last May.
The difference this time though is that the supporters are also turning their heat on the board, with a sit in protest organised after the game. Previous protests have proven divisive but there seems to be a united front among fans this week, certainly on social media, and an agreement that change it needed.
The club hierarchy could have calmed tensions by fully acknowledging the supporters’ concerns, but instead the interventions of Farhad Moshiri seems to have made things worse.
It feels like a powder keg waiting to explode.
On the pitch it is approaching three months since Everton tasted victory, suffering six defeats from their subsequent eight matches.
They showed some fight and desire in the FA Cup defeat at Manchester United and were a marginal VAR decision away from levelling the match with 15 minutes to go. Yet it was still another defeat.
Frank Lampard seems to be operating on a game-by-game basis at the moment, which isn’t fair on anyone. But the board’s track record suggest they do not have a replacement in mind should they decide to make (another) change.
We are also nearly halfway into the transfer window and the much-needed attacking reinforcements have yet to arrive.
It is a worrying time to be an Evertonian. But the biggest fear is that things look likely to get worse before they get better.
Southampton looked to be enduring a similarly grim season, with new boss Nathan Jones losing all four of his Premier League matches so far to see the Saints slip to the foot of the table.
Some furious Southampton fans were already calling for change after a home defeat to fellow strugglers Nottingham Forest. But in true ‘here comes Everton’ style the south coast club won at Crystal Palace in the FA Cup third round last weekend before a fine victory over Manchester City in midweek sent them through to the Carabao Cup semi-finals. They also head north with two January signings in the bag in Mislav Orsic and Carlos Alcaraz.
Win on Saturday and they will go level on points with Everton, though it would take a four-goal win to overtake the Toffees in the table.
The fact such a scenario is not totally out of the questions shows the predicament the Toffees find themselves in.
Southampton 1-2 Everton, October 1 2022
Everything seemed rosy in the Goodison garden in October when goals from Conor Coady and Dwight McNeil earned Everton the points at St Mary’s. That made it back-to-back league wins and seven games unbeaten in all competitions. Things have gone downhill rapidly since of course. Let’s hope things can improve just as quickly.
Alex Iwobi could be fit for selection after Lampard revealed the ankle ligament injury suffered against Manchester United is not as serious as first feared.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin is fit and in a “good place” according to Lampard as he works his way back from a succession of injuries.
Andros Townsend and James Garner are a few weeks away from a return.
What they said
Everton manager Frank Lampard: “Myself and the players, we have to be the first to not get distracted by anything. This is a big game for us in terms of the league position and points if we could win the game.
“I believe fans are coming early to welcome us to the stadium. If they are that’s great because we saw what a great help that was [last season].
“Will they back the players on the pitch if they see passion, if they see Everton players who want to give everything for the shirt, which has happened a lot of time during my time at Goodison?
“It’s not happened the last couple of games but that’s our responsibility. Will they be behind us if we do that? Yes.
“From my point of view and that of the players, our only thing is to have personal responsibility for me doing my job, and the players doing their job. We have to think about ourselves and performing.
“If the fans see that in the game, from Everton players and staff, then they’ll react positively.”
Southampton boss Nathan Jones: “Everyone would have to earn it and you would’ve had to show quality to become a manager. Frank Lampard’s first job is a wonderful job. I managed against his Derby side.
“I never look at anyone else’s management, I focus on my own jobs and keep myself to myself and not comment on Frank Lampard.
“As a manager you have to get results and if you don’t you get criticism. If you take away the Liverpool game, at the minute I’m at a 50% win ratio and need to improve my ratio in the Premier League. I’m sure if I do that the criticism will stop.”
Evertonians are united in their desire to back the team to the hilt before turning their heat onto the board. But if Everton fall behind early here or, gulp, we see a repeat of what happened against Brighton, things could get ugly.
The Toffees have enough talent in their squad to get the points but they are in such a rut at the moment.
Lose here and the consequences could be dire.