Everton 1 - 1 Southampton
Evertonâ€™s aimless drift towards Roberto Martinezâ€™s latest date with destiny continues after much of his second string served up 90 abject minutes of directionless football that was somehow enough to earn a point, while also confirming that this season will bear witness to the clubâ€™s worst home record for a single campaign in its entire 138-year history.
Martinez has been clinging desperately to his teamâ€™s bafflingly superior points return away from home this season but every successive failing at Goodison Park surely puts another nail in his proverbial coffin as the Bluesâ€™ manager. The paucity of quality in Evertonâ€™s play will only deepen the fansâ€™ concern over the illusory depth in the Catalanâ€™s squad and it was enough for one fan to invade the pitch following Southamptonâ€™s equaliser to attempt to remonstrate with Martinez at the sorry state of his teamâ€™s form.
On the back of three successive home defeats and with so many changes to the side â€” six in all, including cold returns to action for Darron Gibson and skipper for the day, Leon Osman â€” few Evertonians would have walked up to the Grand Old Lady with much expectation of a footballing exhibition. What they got, however, was exhibition-game fare; a match that for long periods felt like a pre-season game, complete with players who have played few minutes together as a unit and a couple of sparkling cameos by teenage debutants looking to impress.
Indeed, Callum Connolly and Tom Davies, second-half replacements for Seamus Coleman â€” another victim of a soft tissue injury â€” and Gibson were perhaps the only bright spots in a dire performance, although a couple of excellent interventions by John Stones were key in ensuring that Martinez did not oversee a club-record fourth consecutive home loss. Otherwise, it was hard to take any positives from Evertonâ€™s point of view, and Ronald Koeman must surely be viewing this as two points lost in the context of his sideâ€™s quest for Europe.
Through his muddled rhertoric yesterday, Martinez may have hinted that he had written this game off well beforehand and the decision to make as many changes as he did, albeit with many of them forced, seemed to back that up, simultaneously undermining his argument that no one in his camp is looking ahead to the FA Cup semi-final. On this evidence, that do-or-die meeting with Manchester United the only thing on anyoneâ€™s mind at Everton now; a looming spectre of gloom or hope for glory now just 7 days away, albeit on the other side of a wholly unwanted Merseyside derby at Anfield.
Any hunger to stake a claim for the starting XI at Wembley next weekend on the part of some of the fringe players was not translated to the pitch, however. Kevin Mirallas was game enough in the early going before disappearing almost completely from the contest, firing Gerard Deulofeuâ€™s low cross into the midriff of Jose Fonte from outside the box and later seeing the same defender deflect another effort at the end a purposeful run behind for a corner.
He was also unlucky not to get a decision from referee Craig Pawson when Fonte clearly pulled him back after heâ€™d wriggled away from him on his way towards the visitorsâ€™ box.
It was Southampton, however, who played the better football and who were generally much more incisive, particularly with Dusan Tadic terrorising Bryan Oviedo and Sadio Mane a frequent menace in and around the box. It was Tadic who hooked a shot an inch over the crossbar with the Saintsâ€™ first real opening after 20 minutes and Shane Long who smashed a wild shot over from the angle after he had sprung the offside trap.
Ryan Bertrand, meanwhile, went close with a direct free kick that may have been fizzing wide before Joel Robles flew across his goal to palm it behind with aplomb. A minute later Stonesâ€™s last-ditch block to deny Graziano PellÃ© conceded a corner that Long glanced off his head and onto the far post as Everton escaped to the dressing room with the scores goalless.
In the minds of the Evertonian collective as prosecutor, the evidence against Martinezâ€™s continued tenure as manager has been piling up in recent weeks but, in truth, the situations surrounding Arouna Kone and Oumar Niasse would surely damning enough for an open-and-shut case. A couple of interventions against League Two opposition in the early rounds of the FA Cup aside, the Ivorian has shown nothing to suggest he is still worthy of a punt up front and he made a mockery of his managerâ€™s faith today with a dreadful showing. Niasse, meanwhile, all Â£13.5m of him, wasnâ€™t even deemed worthy of his usual few minutes at the end, begging the question just what the rationale was for signing him in January at such huge cost when the team has been crying out for proper help for Lukaku for the best part of two years.
Everton struggled to create anything meaningful in attack as much of their forward momentum was lost between Kone, and the ineffective duo of Deulofeu and Mirallas â€” one counter attack led by Ramiro Funes Mori with an hour gone was agonising to watch as no one seemed to know what to do with it â€” and that left the initiative with Southampton.
More good footwork by Tadic ended with the Serbian winger cutting inside and whipping in a shot that skimmed off Gibsonâ€™s head and off the bar five minutes into the second period while PellÃ© was foiled again by the close attentions of Stones 13 minutes later.
It was Everton who took the lead, though, against the run of play midway through the half. A corner from the right was poorly cleared by Long and handed straight to Funes Moro who lashed it back towards goal, profiting from a heavy deflection off Bertrand which helped the ball on its way past Fraser Forster.
Inevitably, however, Southampton were level within eight minutes. Tadic bundled his way in from the right flank after picking up a one-two pass on his way into the box and when the ball bounced off him from Funes Mori and fell to ManÃ©, the Senegalese was on hand to convert from close range.
A brilliant saving tackle by the recovering Funes Mori prevented Koemanâ€™s men from turning the game on its head two minutes later while Daviesâ€™ superb tackle in a tight situation in his own box stopped another promising Southampton move in its tracks.
Those kinds of positives were few and far between for Everton and not even Ross Barkleyâ€™s introduction off the bench seemed to have any impact on their display, leaving the contest to peter out to a 1-1 draw and, with Farhad Moshiri and Bill Kenwright in attendance, a chorus of more boos from the Goodison faithful at the final whistle.
Impossibly, it seems, two points from sub-par performances in the space of four days has lifted Everton from 14th into 11th place in the Premier League but itâ€™s hardly been the pre-Wembley fillip that Martinez needs. Hopes for that kind of boost in morale now rest on one of the few fixtures that Everton never win; a first win in the Anfield derby in 17 years seems almost impossible to envision based on the Bluesâ€™ recent form and this game in particular.
Certainly if the same personnel are missing with their respective knocks and the manager is forced to rely on a similar line up to today, Wednesdayâ€™s clash is likely to be another one through which Everton just sleepwalk, hoping that everything will be alright next Saturday afternoon. You suspect itâ€™s going to take a lot more than blind faith.