After the shambles that was White Hart Lane we are back again
this season in need of a home win. The two situations where
this has happened to far, against Fulham and Leeds, we have come out
all guns blazing and blown the opposition away in the first 30
Southampton, however, are a class above the aforementioned two,
despite spending far less in the last few years.
In a very quiet way, Gordon Strachan is building a very good side
at St Mary's. Bolstered by the Premiership striking abilities
of Beattie and the recently signed Phillips, they have a competent
midfield with the added ability of Fernandes and an organised back
line supported by the excellent Niemi.
There is very little to chose between the two sides. Last season
saw a 1-0 defeat at theirs and the epic 2-1 win (2 late Radz goals)
The suspension to Philips certainly gives us a boost and the
travelling that they had to do to Steau Bucharest (where they
crashed out of the UEFA Cup) suggests that we should have the edge.
Our team news is difficult to call given the groin injuries
sustained to Stubbs and Ferguson (also a touch of flu) and the
abject performance at The Lane.
Naysmith and McFadden showed great promise down the left for
Scotland and you have to feel that they should start meaning
Unsworth reverts again to the bench.
If Stubbs is fit he seems certain of starting but will Wright
prise Martyn from between the sticks?
Suspension to Rooney and the injury to Ferguson means that
Campbell may start his first game of the season alongside Radz with
Jeffers on the bench — he must be itching for a chance to show his
It will be close but our need should push us to 3 points — I'll
be watching this live on Sky with my new born son (my first) — so
here's hoping that this is the young Evertonian's first league
Dismal Everton are going
Whatever magic David Moyes was able to work last season to get a
collection of also-rans to gel into an outfit that rocketed into the
top six and stayed there until the last day of the season has
clearly worn off this campaign. Despite showing flashes of what they
capable of — most notably the 4-0 drubbing of Leeds — Everton
have made a disappointing start to the new season and, on the
evidence of this dismal display against Southampton, it's not going
to get better any time soon.
Gordon Strachan was forced to field a vastly under strength side
for the Saints, who came to Goodison on the back of three successive
defeats in all competitions. They were, you might say, ideal
opposition for the Blues to get back to winning ways after a
miserable result at Tottenham a fortnight ago. However, all the home
fans got was more concrete affirmation of their team's utter dearth
of consistent central midfield talent — Thomas Gravesen is capable
of so much more than the lazy distribution and lack of tackling
interspersed with the odd spark of brilliance — and inability to
make anything of set pieces.
Moyes was no doubt thankful to have some depth of squad in the
attacking department with Tomasz Radzinski ruled out with a calf
injury, Duncan Ferguson suffering from a chest infection, Wayne
Rooney suspended and Nick Chadwick taking a knock playing for the
Reserves. That left the manager with just Francis Jeffers and Kevin
Campbell who started up front, reuniting what had been a deadly
partnership under Walter Smith.
Elsewhere, Alan Stubbs' groin strain meant that David Weir
started in central defence and at left back David Unsworth was
wisely dropped in favour of Naysmith. Between the posts, Nigel
Martyn kept his place despite Richard Wright's return to fitness.
The first half was a scrappy and ugly affair for the first half
an hour, with neither side able to settle into a pattern of cohesive
passive football. Southampton were given the opportunity to start
something as early as the second minute when Joseph Yobo jumped in
for a premature tackle on Brett Ormerod who skinned the Nigerian on
the touchline and David Weir had to be on hand to block his cross as
he advanced dangerously towards the six-yard box.
Everton got their first effort on goal two minutes later when
James McFadden received the ball back off Lee Carsley from a short
corner and belted an effort goalwards from 20 yards that Antti Niemi
did well to parry. Jeffers then had a snapshot from the edge of area
that was, unfortunately, straight at Niemi before Campbell, who had
been looking sharp, was found by a Tony Hibbert throw but his
trademark swivel ended with him putting the Blues' best chance of the
half just wide off his left foot.
Unfortunately, that close call did little to immediately spur
Everton to greater things. Carsley was booked for late tackle on
Ormerod, Weir had an absolutely awful shot that threatened the
corner flag more than the goal and Gravesen, who was having a mare
in terms of distribution, just couldn't finish a good move that
ended with a Hibbert cross that the Dane just couldn't get a touch
on in the six yard box.
While Everton seemed to carry the hint of threat because of
Jeffers and Campbell's innate understanding, the Saints had their
moments when they nearly broke the deadlock. Martyn had to make a
28th-minute point-blank parry from Ormerod who did well to engineer
a shot in a crowded area and it was the former Leeds stopper at the
centre of a comedy of errors a couple of minutes later when he came
out of his area, made an awful hash of the clearance and Beattie
lofted an effort toward goal with the 'keeper scrambling back but,
thankfully, it drifted past the far post.
Then, Beattie was put through by a midfield on flick-on, but
Naysmith did enough to put him off as he pulled the trigger and the
England striker fired well wide. Michael Svensson was then booked
for stamping on Campbell's heel before the Blues' number 9 had a
chance after great work by Weir, who got to the byline and cut it
back but Campbell was too far in front and sliced his shot back
towards the edge of the area.
A couple of minutes later, Gravesen dinked a perfect ball through
that dissected the Saints defence but although Campbell put the ball
into the net, it was chalked off for offside with three Blue shirts
in advance of the last man. Goalless at the interval.
The half time pep talk appeared to have benefited the visitors
when Southampton burst out the gates in the second half with a
series of shots and a header from Beattie that looped just over the
Everton responded, though, and 8 minutes in they engineered a
chance on the right with Watson and Carsley who crossed but when the
ball squirted through to McFadden, the Scot shot across goal an
wasted a gilt-edged opportunity to open his Everton account.
Agonisingly enough for him, he put an almost carbon copy shot into
the net 8 minutes later but the whistle had already gone for a foul
by Carsley in which he injured his knee. Tobias Linderoth was
brought on to replace the Irishman.
While Moyes's side had a propensity to drag their feet in the
first half of games, today they were actually worse in the second
half and this was not helped when the manager withdrew McFadden in
favour of Kevin Kilbane on 64 minutes. McFadden, despite still
finding his feet at Premiership level and learning when the release
the ball as opposed to continuing a mazy run, was the most creative
element in the middle of the park so the swap for Kilbane was a
little puzzling, as it was at Spurs.
As the half wore on, a sustained period of Southampton pressure
left Everton effectively playing on the break which Jeffers did
midway through the second period but his only support came from
Linderoth and Kilbane and it was the latter whom he found but the
Irishman's shot was always rising over the bar. Minutes earlier, a
great cross by Jeffers eluded everyone before it caught Watson by
surprise at the far post and nodded wrong side of post.
Anders Svensson was then booked for holding Kilbane back, setting
up dangerous free kick that Gravesen wasted in horribly predictable
fashion, blasting high and very, very wide to the jeers of the
Goodison crowd. Watson had the ball in the net soon afterwards, but
the ref had blown for a foul by Gravesen.
All in all a desperately disappointing display by a pretty strong
Everton line-up. In fact, apart from Alan Stubbs, it was virtually
Moyes's first-choice line-up behind the front two and, for my money,
Jeffers and Campbell looked the most useful players in Blue so it
would be fruitless to point to that duo, partnering each other for
the first time this season, to assign blame.
Moyes clearly has a problem on his hands. Almost all his
first-choice players are fit and available but he cannot get them to
play as a cohesive unit with the style of passing football he has
promised he wants to introduce. If he has European aspirations, and
we know he does, then he will know as well as we do that this was
precisely the sort of game Everton should be winning in their quest
to make it into the top six.