If the mantra of “football is nothing without fans“ has become a bit of a cliché in recent weeks it's with good reason because these behind-closed-doors matches, at least where Everton are concerned, are becoming something of a chore. And if this evening’s performance was any indication, the players cannot find the drive within themselves to produce anything more than the lacklustre which leaves you at the final whistle wondering why you bothered tuning in.
For the final half an hour of this game, having hauled themselves back to parity with a brilliant goal, fashioned by Lucas Digne and finished emphatically by Richarlison, Everton had the platform from which they could go on and win this game.
Instead, they ambled their way through the final stages of a contest that was officiated abysmally from start to finish and which deserved its billing as a meaningless end of season affair.￼￼.. because in the context of the Blues’ season and the now vanished hopes of Europe, that’s what it was.
The goal aside, the only thing that raised any passion among Carlo Ancelotti’s players was typically horrendous refereeing from Lee Mason, who seems to be in a perennial race to the bottom with Jon Moss to see who can be the single worst official on a PGMOL roster stuffed full of incompetence and inconsistency.
Mason awarded a penalty that shouldn’t have been at one end — thankfully, James Ward-Prowse missed — waved away a stone-wall shove on Anthony Gordon at the other, had both decisions upheld by Video Assistant Referee, Andy Madley (seriously, what is VAR for?), and then gave a questionable foul against Jan Bednarek on Richarlison but mystifyingly only booked him when his decision was based on an infringement that denied an obvious goalscoring opportunity.
Had Bednarek been given his marching orders and Southampton been forced to play the final half hour with 10 men, it’s possible that Everton might have won but given how insipid they were over the preceding 60 minutes, it’s not something that was all that likely or that it would have been deserved.
On balance, Southampton were quicker, sharper and more coherent than their hosts; the hours that Ralph Hasenhuttl has spent on the training pitch since that 9-0 humiliation at the hands of Leicester in November were obvious in the passing patterns and movement that skirted around Everton’s ponderous midfield with ease at times, particularly in the first half.
The home side were, by contrast, almost as lifeless as they had been at Tottenham on Monday evening, with the exception of their left flank where Gordon, rightfully reinstated to the starting XI, and Digne were energetic and purposeful until the teenager was withdrawn with 15 minutes to go having outshone the majority of his more senior team-mates.
Gylfi Sigurdsson was the only player dropped following the debacle against Spurs as André Gomes and Tom Davies kept their places but the Portuguese spent much of the first half chasing shadows while his younger midfield partner was unable to dictate the game in any meaningful fashion.
It became clear, though, that Gomes wasn’t fit — truth be told, he may not have been fully so at any point since the post-shutdown restart — and it was little surprise when he sat down on the turf in the 41st minute unable to continue and had to be replaced by Sigurdsson.
Everton were trailing at that point and deservedly so, although Alex Iwobi did warm the palms of Alex McCarthy mid-way through the first period with a half-volley after a nice interchange between Gordon and Digne.
The Toffees had come close to conceding the opening goal when Stuart Armstrong turned the ball in from close range after only seven minutes but he was, correctly, adjudged to have been offside when Che Adams fired the ball into the six-yard box.
And Danny Ings came within inches of scoring in the 27th minute after Jordan Pickford had tipped a Ward-Prowse free-kick over. The striker glanced the resulting corner on with his head, the ball hit the bar, Pickford appeared to bat it back onto the woodwork and then away to safety.
The danger wasn’t cleared, however, and when the ball was worked back into the box to Ward-Prowse and the midfielder collapsed into a challenge that Gomes was clearly pulling out of, referee Mason awarded a penalty. Justice was done when the same player rattled his spot-kick off the top of the crossbar but there was injustice just seven minutes later when Gordon was flattened in the Saints area in what was more than a mere shoulder-charge. The officials were having none of it.
In between, Southampton had taken the lead and it was with the kind of incisive running through the centre of defence that Everton seem incapable of consistently producing. Armstrong was allowed to drive just inside the area, cut the ball to the unmarked Ings who managed to drag it with one foot to wrong-foot Pickford and then stab it home with the other while the Blues’ defenders appealed in vain for offside.
Everton did equalise, though, shortly before half-time with what was far and away their best moment of the match.
Michael Keane Sigurdsson found Digne near the halfway line with a pass out of defence, the Frenchman spotted Richarlison waving for a knock over the top and he raked a precision ball to the Brazilian who took one touch before belting it off the advancing keeper’s glove and high into the Park End net.
Ancelotti withdrew Iwobi at the interval and introduced Djibril Sidibé as a more orthodox wingback but it was Southampton who continued to look the more dangerous after the restart. Adams tried to bend one around Pickford but he pawed it away and then the Blues survived a seemingly interminable schoolboy-esque goalmouth scramble before Dominic Calvert-Lewin had a golden chance to put Everton in front.
Davies picked him out with a lovely flighted ball but the striker lost track of the trajectory and with him only needing a sure contact to guide it past the stranded McCarthy, the ball ended up bouncing off his hip and out of his control.
Five minutes later, Richarlison was put into the clear and looked odds-on to score when Bednarek slid in to toe the ball away from him with a last-ditch tackle. Television replays suggested it was a legal challenge but Mason, having decided it was a foul, was duty bound to send the Pole off but only showed him a yellow card.
Sigurdsson hit the wall with the free-kick, Sidibé’s follow-up shot was easily saved by McCarthy and despite a really promising moment when Everton found themselves with space and superior numbers but Gordon’s pass was too weak to find Digne, the Blues ran out of impetus and ideas in the final 30 minutes.
Bernard and Moise Kean both came off the bench offering hope that they could make something happen but while the Brazilian was, like Sigurdsson, tidy enough, he wasn’t able to create anything and the young Italian striker was a wasted presence up front.
Instead it was Armstrong who had a chance to pinch the points for Saints but he blazed over the bar with four minutes to go.
Ancelotti blamed fatigue and a lack of energy for his team’s lethargic display and if playing a second game in three days was the issue, it showed. In that sense, the fact that the manager only made one change that wasn’t forced upon him by injury from the team that started at Spurs was a little surprising.
There was a case for starting the likes of Kean and Bernard and, perhaps, giving someone like Beni Baningime a run-out but Ancelotti has retained faith with a core team these past few weeks. It’s not clear much is being learned, though, from this bunch other than the fact that the team is desperately lacking in quality.
Again, thoughts turn to the transfer window and the fervent hope that a couple of real difference-makers can be added to the squad but you find yourself fearing for the standard of entertainment if, as looks likely, 2020-21 kicks off in empty stadiums. The Goodison “12th man” was conspicuous by his absence this evening.
Under fire following a dismal showing at Spurs on Monday, Everton went behind to Southampton after a poor first half that was rescued by a great strike from Richarlison.
Sigurdsson was dropped but the other perennial coward, Iwobi, started with Gordon. Mina replaced the injured Holgate, as expected. Walcott and Sidibé were on the bench.
Southampton put some good early pressure on Everton, getting free-kicks, corners and offside goals, with no response from the Blues. Richarlison and then Gordon were double-teamed by the now-familiar strong-arm tactics Everton's opponents know the can exercise with impunity.
Richarlison was fouled outside the Saints box but Digne wasted the chance, curling it wide. But normal service was soon resumed as The yellow and black Saints swarmed like bees into the Everton half, causing panic, Ward-Prowse's shot needed blocking.
A great set-up from a reverse chip by Digne that Richarlison headed on well, fell to Iwobi who fired it plenty hard at goal and McCarthy had no trouble stopping it. This came after some great work by Gordon. Nothing came of the corner.
Ward-Prowse fired a free-kick over the wall but Pickford couldn't take chances, and fingertipped it over the bar. And from the corner, a mad scramble ensued, with Pickford making a great save but Gomes bringing Ward-Prowse down clumsily... Penalty!
But incredibly, Ward-Prowse missed it, the ball clipping off the top of the bar... what a let-off! But it wouldn't take long before they finally got their just deserts. Ings cleverly beating Pickford so he could poke home from a couple of yards after the Everton defence were all at sea. If it could be possible, this performance was turning out even worse than at Spurs on Monday. Shocking stuff from the Blues.
Gordon, perhaps the only player in Blue worthy of the shirt, made a great run into the Saints area only to be barged down for an obvious penalty... but no. The odious Lee Mason and shameful Stockley Park conspired to award a goal kick without VAR even giving it a look.
Then suddenly, out of nothing, Everton somehow got level. Digne put in an absolutely fantastic great crossfield ball to Richarlison. Richarlison brought the ball down, and in one clean movement, finished superbly, McCarthy perhaps getting a hand to it, a really good quality goal a rare thing of beauty from Everton FC!
Richarlison then blotted his copybook somewhat, diving in from behind and earning a yellow card. Then Gomes got a knock on his ankle and the decision was made for him to come off, Sigurdsson the replacement.
After the restart, when Sidibé replaced Iwobi, Southampton carried on dominating the game as if Everton's wonderful equalizer had never happened. Adams tried to curl one around Pickford. Then Pickford needed to be alert to paw away a shot, and Ward-Prowse drove a free-kick off the top of Sigurdsson's head in the wall from a free-kick. From the ensuing corner, it was Keystone Kaos in the Everton area. Pickford punching out and the shot from Ings needing the block.
Davies put a lovely ball across to Calvert-Lewin in plenty of space, who should have hammered the ball home, but he criminally misjudged the flight of the ball he is watching all the way in the air, and it goes the wrong way off his thigh. Absolutely abysmal play from the Everton striker.
Richarlison got in a race with Bednarek whose outstretched leg did just enough to redirect the ball away from goal and bring down Richarlison at the same time. Richarlison wanted red for denial of a goalscoring opportunity but Bednarek only saw yellow. The free-kick was a rare wrongful decision in Everton's favour as he had actually got his foot to the ball, but logic then dictated he should have been dismissed, but VAR once again deferred to the blind, incompetent or plain biased Lee Mason.
Kean came on in place of Calvert-Lewin, then Bernard replaced Gordon. But Southampton were coming back into it after Everton had finally started playing a bit. However, the match played out to a disappointing draw with Everton failing to control the game for long and worrying periods.
Scorers: Richarlison (43'); Ings (31')
Everton: Pickford, Coleman, Mina, Keane, Digne [Y:90+1'], Iwobi (46' Sidibé), Davies, Gomes (42' Sigurdsson), Gordon (74' Bernard), Calvert-Lewin [Y:45+2'] (67' Kean), Richarlison [Y:45+1'].
Subs not Used:Stekelenburg, Baines, Walcott, Branthwaite, Baningime.
Southampton: McCarthy, Walker-Peters, Stephens [Y], Bednarek [Y:61'], Bertrand, Armstrong [Y:14'] (88' Smallbone), Ward-Prowse, Romeu (69' Hojbjerg), Redmond, Ings, Adams (69' Long).
Subs not Used: Obafemi, Gunn, Vokins, Danso, Ferry, Jankewitz.
Referee: Lee Mason
VAR: Andy Madley
Under fire following a dismal showing at Spurs on Monday, Everton are back at Goodison Park tomorrow evening to take on improved Southampton.
In his pre-match press conference, Carlo Ancelotti insisted that while European qualification was still a possibility, his players would need to fight for every victory, but he will know that the Blues simply have to win to keep alive their hopes of finishing in a Europa League spot.
The defeat the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium left Everton in 11th place in the table, seven points off seventh place with only five games left. More than that, however, the insipid manner of the defeat means supporters watching on from home will be demanding a response from the team.
They will also be eyeing Ancelotti's team selection with interest. Given the proximity of games in the calendar, the manager was always likely to make changes to his line-up, although at least one will be enforced due to injury while others might hand opportunities to some players to make statement.
Mason Holgate will miss the game after picking up an injury at Tottenham. The defender took a heavy knock to his shin in a challenge with Giovani lo Celso in the 1-0 defeat and will sit out against Saints.
That will almost certainly see Yerry Mina start for the first time since the resumption of the season alongside Michael Keane.
Ancelotti announced presser that Theo Walcott is available following an abdominal operation and that Djibril Sidibé is fit enough to start which could mean an entirely different right flank for this one if both players are named in the line-up.
Meanwhile, Alex Iwobi will be assessed for a minor hamstring problem and Fabian Delph continues to work on an individualised programme to get him closer to being ready to play.
In contrast to Everton's showing last time out, Southampton have looked purposeful in three of their last four matches. Though they succumbed 2-0 at home to Arsenal on 25th June, they beat Norwich City handily 3-0 a few days before Everton themselves won at Carrow Road and also won comfortably at Watford.
In their last game they successfully held off deposed champions Manchester City and record a 1-0 win that lifted them to within a point of the Blues coming into this fixture.
In Danny Ings they have one of the division's most in-form strikers with 18 goals and he has led their revival in fortunes under Ralph Hassenhüttl since the 9-0 drubbing at the hands of Leicester in October that had many wondering if the Austrian's days at St Mary's were numbered.
Aside from the European picture, simple league placing could be hugely important to Everton given that each position is worth around £2m in merit payments. So, while they won't be able to bridge the gap to either Spurs or Burnley above them with a win in this game, they can at least keep in touch with the clubs above them in the hope of leap-frogging some of them before the end of the season.
Kick-off: 6pm, Thursday 9 July 2020
Referee: Lee Mason
VAR: Andy Madley
Last Time:Everton 2-1 Southampton
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Sidibé, Keane, Mina, Digne, Gomes, Davies, Gordon, Walcott, Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin