Everton 2 - 1 Southampton
If you’re on social media and follow enough Everton accounts you won’t have been able to escape the much-repeated — and retweeted! — fact that today Richarlison became the first player to score in his first two games for the club since Brian McBride in 2003.
It’s a statistic that perhaps says more about the paucity of the Blues’ finances, pulling power and recruiting over the intervening 15 years than the Brazilian’s achievement but it underscores the impact he has made since Everton “ruined the transfer market” by splashing out £35m on the 21 year-old last month.
Incredibly, Richarlison’s last 53 shots for Watford yielded no goals; his first three for Everton have all found the back of the net. Goodison Park has a new hero; an industrious, skillful, goalscoring wide man who has provided genuine excitement and flashes of thrilling ability in just 80 minutes worth of action so far.
What’s even more exciting for Evertonians is that, really like the team’s performance as a whole, you get the sense there is much, much more to come. By turns dormant and electrifying, Richarlison flitted in and out of his first competitive appearance in front of his home fans. Peripheral for the first 20-odd minutes of the game, he looked to be headed for the treatment table when he slipped awkwardly in the 28th minute, unnaturally extending his groin and crying out in pain, only to return to the action and head home an excellent goal to double Everton’s lead just three minutes later.
The Blues’ first goal, one that underlined the difference in approach and imagination of the new manager compared to that of his archaic predecessor, had been even better. A training-ground routine played out to perfection on the main stage, it caught Southampton cold and put Marco Silva’s men ahead with a quarter of an hour gone.
That Everton were two goals to the good with a little over half an hour gone without having consistently found third gear was both a cause for optimism that they could increase the visitors’ misery but also a source of consternation when Mark Hughes’s Saints rallied after the interval and made it an uncomfortable final half hour or so for their hosts when Danny Ings halved the deficit from a corner.
While many of Silva’s directives are clearly evident already — Everton press higher, work harder, are more dangerous from set-pieces, manage the game better and generally move the ball quicker and more effectively — some of last season’s foibles remain. Concerns remain on the defensive side and that inability to put matches beyond their opponents to stave off nervy finales is something that still needs to be developed.
They deserve credit, however, for grinding out the win in what was often a bruising encounter against a team that appears to have been moulded very much after their manager’s uncompromising and physical style. Not generally known for brute force, Southampton conceded a litany of fouls across the 90 minutes, collected four yellow cards in first half and were lucky not to have at least one man sent off for second bookable offences.
Three of the early infringements ended with efforts on target, albeit routine saves by Alex McCarthy, from Gylfi Sigurdsson free kicks, one ended Morgan Schneiderlin’s afternoon early because of injury but one led to breakthrough after Sigurdsson himself was clipped by Wesley Hoedt as he danced past the centre half not far outside the penalty area.
Leighton Baines shaped to bend one over the wall but rolled a pass to Morgan Schneiderlin inside the box instead where the Frenchman laid it off to Theo Walcott with the outside of the boot and the forward took a touch before lifting into the goal via the goalkeeper’s glove.
Southampton, who had gone close themselves in the 10th minute when Charlie Austin guided a free header wide of goal from a free kick, came within inches of equalising against the run of play in the 25th minute, though. Cedric Soares unloaded a swerving missile from outside the box that Jordan Pickford spilled into Ings’s path but got a vital arm on the striker’s shot to diver it onto the face of the crossbar to prevent what had looked to be a certain goal.
Three minutes later, as Richarlison lay in a heap following his fall and Southampton counter-attacked, weak defending by Michael Keane ushered Austin in on goal but Pickford did well to get to the ball first with a strong hand, referee Lee Mason waving away appeals for a penalty as the striker went down as a result.
Everton seemingly put themselves on course for a handsome victory three minutes after that. Seamus Coleman ended a fine passing move by pushing the ball down the flank to Walcott who whipped the ball across and Richarlison rose expertly above Soares to power a header past McCarthy and make it 2-0.
Ings had another chance from a corner but glanced wide 10 minutes before half-time but he couldn’t miss with his next opportunity, also from a corner on the Saints’ right, nine minutes into the second half. What appeared to be zonal marking from Everton left the on-loan striker completely unmarked in the six-yard box so that when the dead ball delivery was flicked by Mario Lemina, he had the simple of task of shooting past Pickford.
Everton were unquestionably the better side overall, however, and they found the incisiveness a dozen minutes later to score the third goal through Walcott, only to have it chalked off for a fractional offside decision against Tosun, and then carve out a gilt-edged chance for Walcott to end the contest legitimately, only for the former Gunner to drag his shot horribly across goal when he seemed odds-on to score.
Profligacy of the kind that stopped him from being a genuine star for club and country in his Arsenal days perhaps but had he scored he would unquestionably have taken the man-of-the-match award from Sigurdsson who was a tireless fulcrum even if he wasn’t superlative on the day.
The game had not been put to bed and, as such, Goodison had to endure one of those uncertain last 20-odd minutes as the opposition came forward in search of another equaliser but Southampton were largely kept at bay. Instead it was the Blues who might have scored again. First, when Idrissa Gueye’s low drive was parried away by McCarthy and then when substitute Oumar Niasse tried to gallop clear behind the defence but the ball got held up in his gangly stride allowing the covering defender to close him out.
So, three points on the board a week after Silva probably would have registered his first win as Everton boss were it not for Jagielka’s red card and things are looking very encouraging at Goodison under the new man. What was striking was how much better almost to man virtually the same team that Sam Allardyce complained he had inherited and could do more to improve than he was already doing played today.
Gueye was his usual tigerish presence in the centre of the park but was so much better with his distribution; Schneiderlin was actually deemed a significant loss when he went off even though his replacement, Tom Davies, looked re-energised and barely put a foot wrong for the rest of the afternoon; and, as was the case against Wolves last week, there was just so much more balance about the side.
At the back, Mason Holgate was composed, robust and solid, making a very strong case that it should be he who steps into Phil Jagielka’s shoes now that the club captain appears to be on the way out of the starting XI.
Keane, however, was less convincing in his efforts to ensure that Silva has a real selection headache when it comes to new signing Yerry Mina. The ex-Burnley man was shown up as the weak link at the back on two or three occasions and although he wasn’t punished, they serve as notes of caution when it comes to settling on the best combination at centre half.
Nevertheless, taken as a whole, when you consider that neither Bernard nor André Gomes, two technically gifted, experienced midfield players, have yet to kick a ball in anger in an Everton jersey and that Silva’s work has only just begun, there is so much to be optimistic about for the season. Tougher tasks than Southampton lie ahead but the new regime is off to a hugely encouraging start.