Everton's alarming decline gathered pace at St Mary's Stadium as their defence collapsed again precipitating another heavy defeat
Caretaker boss David Unsworth was hoping for a positive reaction to Thursday's 5-1 thrashing at the hands of Atalanta but he watched another torrid defensive performance as Southampton exploited the Blues' weaknesses at the back to register their biggest win of the season so far.
Dusan Tadic's strike on the break looked to have set the home side on their way to victory as Everton yet again conceded the first goal but a brilliant goal from Gylfi Sigurdsson levelled matters going into the half-time interval.
The visitors conceded two soft headed goals to Charlie Austin early in the second half and Simon Davis scored a late fourth with very little in between from a dispirited Everton side to signal they were capable of mounting another comeback.
Unsworth made eight changes from the side that started on Thursday night, with Leighton Baines, Phil Jagielka, Jordan Pickford, Idrissa Gueye, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Aaron Lennon, Sigurdsson and Morgan Schneiderlin returning to the side.
Beni Baningime and Sandro Ramirez dropped back to the bench while Oumar Niasse and Tom Davies were suspended.
Southampton started the stronger of the two sides, establishing the pattern of home dominance that would persist throughout the match.
Austin smashed over when he might have done better from a good position and then struck the base of the post with a first-time effort after Cedric had out-muscled Sigurdsson and whipped a dangerous cross in from the Saints' right flank.
Openings at the other end were rare but Kevin Mirallas let himself down with a poor touch that saw a tremendous chance go begging.
The counter-attack that followed, though, saw Southampton lance through Everton's midfield and defence where Tadic slipped the ball past the challenge of Baines and the advancing Pickford to make it 1-0 after 17 minutes.
Unable to keep the ball or mount any sort of sustained attack, the Toffees were struggling to keep pace in the game and their cause was weakened further when Baines was forced off through injury, forcing Unsworth to introduce Ashley Williams and deploy Lennon and Jonjoe Kenny as wingbacks.
The change briefly seemed to help but Southampton remained on top and had strong appeals for a penalty for handball against Keane waved away by referee Kevin Friend.
Everton needed something special to get back on terms and it came from their record signing. Picking the ball up outside the box at the end of the first half, Sigurdsson took a touch wide of his marker and lashed a dipping shot in off the crossbar, onto the goal line, back off the bar and into the net.
Unsworth's men were back on the defensive, however, and in arrears again seven minutes into the second half. Ryan Bertrand was allowed to cross from the right where Austin lost Keane to plant an impressive header past Pickford.
The same Saints duo combined with depressing familiarity six minutes later, with neither Keane or Williams anywhere near Austin who headed home again to extend the hosts lead.
Unsworth's belated response saw Mirallas depart in favour of Ademola Lookman but while the youngster was a willing runner with the ball at his feet, he was often forced to go it alone in the face of an emboldened Southampton back line.
An injury to Keane saw Jagielka return to central defence alongside Williams and Nikola Vlasic come on but apart from wayward shots by Sigurdsson and Gueye, there was nothing in terms of attempts on goal from Everton and they would fall 4-1 behind before the end.
Davis survived appeals of handball before setting himself and curling an unstoppable shot past Pickford to cap a miserable afternoon for the Blues and their sold-out away section.
Four more goals against means that Everton haven't conceded this many by this stage of the season for almost 60 years, underscoring the desperate need to finalise the search for a new permanent managerial appointment and some long, hard work in trying to shore up a desperately porous back line.
If there are saving graces as shell-shocked Evertonians review the carnage of another heavy defeat they are surely that with 25 games still to play and a transfer window to come there is still time, and that somehow Everton are not already bottom of the Premier League.
Because on the evidence of what unfolded at St Mary’s Stadium, coming as it did on the heels of a 5-1 humiliation at Atalanta’s hands on Thursday, it’s hard to imagine there is a worse team than the Toffees in the top flight at the moment. There certainly isn’t a worse defence, a fact that was confirmed as the 27th and 28th goals of the league season went in in the second half.
And, yet, had they picked up only their fourth victory of the campaign today, Everton would be sitting 10th, which — baseless optimism aside — underscores the paucity of the bottom half of the world’s richest league. Perhaps that will allow this great club to mount a successful bid to avoid relegation; either that or the unforgiving nature of the Premier League will claim another big club its proud membership of the elite because you can’t rely on other clubs remaining as bad as they currently are.
As things stand, that latter scenario is a very real possibility and as unpalatable as the “R word” is, its danger is alarmingly present even though we’re still in November. Because this Everton team cannot defend, it doesn’t create and score enough goals and its mentality, particularly among the more senior players on whom you would normally rely to get you out of the mire, is hugely suspect.
The club’s free-fall from the giddy optimism of the summer still takes some believing. As supporters, we celebrated the fact that with the summer acquisitions Everton had bought a new spine for the team, only to discover now that it’s almost entirely lacking a backbone.
Staggering sums of money were wasted on Davy Klaassen (the Dutch midfielder was left out of the squad entirely today), Michael Keane and Gylfi Sigurdsson to take a team being talked about as dark horses for the top four to one that could very well go down if its current course isn’t reversed.
The utterly unforgivable neglect that saw this Everton squad end the transfer window without cover at left-back, centre-back or centre-forward has been well documented but it doesn’t get any more acceptable with the passage of time, nor will it ever be forgotten.
Because with Leighton Baines limping off the field at St Mary’s today and Michael Keane also being forced to withdraw with an apparent concussion, the Blues are down to the bare bones at the back, an area already a problem given that the only left-sided centre-half on the books has been recovering from knee surgery for the past few months.
At the other end of the field, the problems are almost as bad. From an attacking perspective, there is almost nothing to discuss about Everton from this defeat to Southampton. Sigurdsson, a player who could yet lead this team up the league if utilised properly and given the signing of a proper striker in January, scored an absolute belter of a goal that could have provided the platform for a vastly improved second half.
Instead, Sunday League defending from Keane and Ashley Williams saw the Blues concede almost identical goals within six minutes of each other and with them went any hope of David Unsworth’s men getting anything from the game.
A breakaway goal in the first half that saw Dusan Tadic race through the Blues’ short-handed defence had seen Southampton take the lead and Everton concede the first goal yet again and the home side had the last word, too, when Steven Davis curled home after referee Kevin Friend had allowed him to continue despite a suspected handball.
Two shots on target out of five total for Everton, meanwhile, tells its own story — a team utterly bereft of confidence, seemingly without much faith in the caretaker boss and, for some of them, no stomach or desire for the fight.
That’s an accusation that can’t be levelled at all of the players. Jordan Pickford was vocal from his goal mouth but helpless to prevent another glut of goals. Jonjoe Kenny, still a “kid” in football terms, was bellowing his frustrations in the second half and was the only Everton player to go all the way over to those away fans remaining to apologise and thank them for their support. Ademola Lookman came on and did all he could to spur Everton forward when he had the ball; likewise Nikola Vlasic who also came off the bench with a desire to make something happen in attacking areas.
It was like swimming upstream, though, something Dominic Calvert-Lewin had already found out. The young striker had almost nothing to work with for 90 minutes; the target of Pickford’s long balls, there was no one around him to pick up any second balls he managed to fashion against the likes of Virgil van Dijk. Kevin Mirallas had some bright early moments as he so often does but had, by the time he was substituted in the second half, disappeared from the game almost entirely. Sigurdsson spent too much time over the on the left and if he interchanged at all with Calvert-Lewin or Mirallas in the final third, it can’t have been much. The Iceland international’s problems settling into a seriously struggling team continue.
Apart from Keane and Williams — one is a relatively young defender critically low on confidence, the other a hitherto respected pro who is now apparently unconcerned with his reputation or future as a top-level footballer — the most glaring problem was Schneiderlin whose ambulatory performance again raised questions as to why Unsworth keeps picking him.
Slow to track back into his box and largely oblivious to his need to pick up runners from midfield, the Frenchman’s fall from the grace he enjoyed earlier this year remains a vexing and perplexing aspect of Everton’s parallel decline. Called out as the best player on the pitch against Atalanta despite his tender years, it is surely time to give Beni Baningime the opportunity to show Schneiderlin up in the holding role rather than persist with an unproductive ego in front of the back four.
Unsworth deserves plenty of sympathy for what is an incredibly challenging situation. Installed on a temporary basis in the hope that he could provide some stability while the board hunted for a permanent managerial appointment, he was on a hiding to nothing in many respects but the task has looked increasingly beyond him despite two positive results in the last couple of Premier League outings.
Once again, his team selection and substitutions didn’t help him today, particularly when the Blues’ obvious absence from the game in an attacking capacity was crying out for something different. Whether he was left there on the assumption that at 3-1 this fixture was already lost and that he would be of more use with fresh legs on Wednesday, Wayne Rooney watched the disaster unfold from the bench.
So, too, did Sandro Ramirez who scored his first goal on Thursday and was one of the few players to emerge with any credit but Unsworth didn’t see fit to introduce him either, perhaps because he felt he would be wasted chasing long punts down the field.
Most damning was just how poor Everton were in terms of shape and how little evidence there was that they had set any stall out to remain tight and to defend. As they showed at Manchester City back in August, they are capable of it as a team but at the moment they look a ragged and ill-disciplined bunch, cannon fodder for even the most limited top-flight opposition.
It’s that, combined with a settled line-up, that must be addressed by whomever is charged with leading the side going forward. Despite Jim White’s assertions on Friday, the Everton hierarchy didn’t seem close to filling the vacancy left by Ronald Koeman; with the urgency now pressing, perhaps that will change in the coming days. One thing is for sure, Evertonian pride over who is the most suitable man for the job has probably gone out the window.
Another dismal and dispirited capitulation
Everton got off to another terrible start at fellow strugglers Southampton, giving up a soft easy goal after missing easy chances to shoot.
So no Wayne Rooney starting for Everton, despite Oumar Niasse and Tom Davies being suspended. Mirallas replaces Lookman, with Calvert-Lewin the target man. Beni Baningime is on the bench. As for Saints, Charlie Austin is back in.
An early free-kick for the home side bounced of Jagielka and into Pickford's hands. A corner then fell to Charlie Austin who blazed over. They would have a good spell of attacking, while the Everton defence looked very nervey.
Lennon and Calvert-Lewin ran through to tee up Mirallas who took a touch rather than firing first time. At the other end, Cedric bamboozled Sigurdsson to cross in low for Adams whose shot hit the base of the post! Everton's first corner, from Sigurdsson, was cleared easily.
Mirallas had a fantastic chance to score when the ball came to him in space but he took way too many touches and over-ran it in the end. Southampton galloped up the other end and walked the ball into the net by Tadic.
Everton were unable to get the ball out of their half, Lennon twice losing possession while advancing, and the ball coming right back in the form of dangerous attacks. Baines pulled up with some sort of problem and was replaced by Williams, forcing a change in formation to a back three with Kenny switching to the left and Lennon dropping back.
Kenny did well to shaddoo turn on the byeline, pass well to Sigurdsson and on to Calvert-Lewin who feebly allowed it to run out of play. Keane blocked Davies's cross with his arm but at close range: no penalty given.
Kenny got forward and set up Sigurdsson for the cross to nowhere, miles away from Calvert-Lewin. More pressure from Southampton corners came perilously close to increasing their lead.
Just before half-time, Sigurdsson scored from virtually nothing, his first Premier League goal for Everton, a brilliant strike off beating Forster and hitting the the bar then in off the post.
Southampton continued to apply pressure, Gueye deemed to have been a little too strong on Boufal, setting up a free-kick from Ward-Prowse that was fired in low but cleared. Sigurdsson tried to feed Mirallas but he was perhaps unfairly dispossessed.
Charlie Austin scored a fine angled header, beating Pickford off the bar from a rapier-like cross by Bertrand to put the home side back in the lead early in the second half.
Not long after, and the same double-act saw Pickford beaten again, with Williams hopelessly failing to mark Austin. As The Saints looked to make it into a route, Pickford did better to stop further damage. Lookman replaced Mirallas but Everton were offering absolutely nothing going forward.
Lookman had a great run but just ran into trouble. Keane went down and Vlasic came on as Unsworth's final forced substitution. He did well to win his first ball but then passed to nobody.
Gueye came out with another of his atrocious shots from distance as Everton looked worse and worse as the game progressed, Sigurdsson trying his luck again but this time too close to Forster.
Long beat Jagielka with ease but fired wide of Pickford's goal. Davies saw some space and fired in an unstoppable shot across Pickford to make it four.
Everton will look to quickly forget Thursday's debacle against Atalanta as they travel to fellow strugglers Southampton.
The Blues' 5-1 defeat at the hands of the Italian side in the Europa League could potentially destroy the fragile confidence that had built among the players following a win and a draw in the Premier League.
Taking charge of his seventh match since stepping into the breach created by Ronald Koeman's sacking, David Unsworth sounded determined in his press conference yesterday not to let that happen. The caretaker boss reiterated his disappointment at the manner of Everton's late collapse and suggested again that a number of the players selected for the Atalanta game are unlikely to keep their place this weekend.
“Last night was obviously very, very disappointing,” Unsworth said. “We've got to put that to bed very, very quickly.
“The players who were involved last night know exactly how I feel. They know that I feel they let the club down and that's a big disappointment.
“We've got to put it to bed, move on and we've got a big game on Sunday.”
Of critical concern for Unsworth will be Everton's defensive frailties but with Phil Jagielka a doubt because of a groin injury, he could be forced to field the same central-defensive partnership of Michael Keane and Ashley Williams that was so susceptible on Thursday evening.
Unsworth revealed that Keane, along with the entire back line, is being encouraged to get back to basics and not be afraid to hit row Z if necessary, although it was positional sense and weakness from set-pieces rather than the defenders' use of the ball that was so alarming against Atalanta.
Mason Holgate has sat out the last two games with an injury of his own but he could be available for the trip to St Mary's. Morgan Schneiderlin remains doubtful with the toe injury that forced him off at Crystal Palace while Tom Davies and Oumar Niasse serve one-game and two-game bans respectively. Davies has racked up five bookings on the season while Niasse was the first victim of the FA's controversial new measures to combat diving.
Leighton Baines is expected to return along with Jordan Pickford, and there are likely to be a recalls, too, for Idrissa Gueye, Aaron Lennon and Dominic Calvert-Lewin but those absences — both potential and confirmed — will restrict the manager's ability to revert to the core line-up that has picked up four points from the last six.
Southampton have also made a disappointing start to the season under new boss Mauricio Pellegrino and come into the weekend just a point and two places better off than Everton.
Since edging West Brom at home 1-0 a month ago, the Saints have drawn at Brighton and lost to Burnley and Liverpool.
The Argentine says that he doesn't fear for his job, though, even though Saints dismissed Claude Puel for finishing eighth in 2016-17.
With this game on the south coast and an equally vital clash with West Ham on Wednesday, Everton have the chance to pick up some hugely important points in the space of four days. Win both or at least collect another four points from a possible six and the picture could feel significantly different than it did on Thursday night.
What could be key is keeping things tight and not conceding the first goal, something the Blues haven't been able to manage since the start of the season.
Kick-off: 1.30pm Sunday, 26 November, 2017
Referee: Kevin Friend
Last Time: Southampton 1 - 0 Everton
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Kenny, Keane, Jagielka, Baines, Gueye, Baningime, Lennon, Sigurdsson, Rooney, Calvert-Lewin