Visits to Goodison Park rarely seem to bear much fruit for Southampton, and this season’s edition of their away fixture against Everton was no different, as they fell to a 1-0 defeat on Merseyside.
Saints’ last Premier League victory at this ground came back in November 1997, when Kevin Davies’s solo wonder goal highlighted a 2-0 win, and they will need to wait a while longer for another opportunity to end the torrid run they have endured since then.
On this occasion, an early strike from Richarlison – a regular thorn in the side for Saints in recent years – was enough to give Everton the points in a game that threw up little in the way of big opportunities for either side.
While the record at Goodison remains an ongoing point of frustration, of more pressing concern for Ralph Hasenhüttl's team is their current Premier League run, which now stands at one win in their last 14 matches. They will now be hoping they can begin moving forward again when they visit bottom-placed Sheffield United on Saturday.
The big news pre-match was the return of Fraser Forster to the team, as Hasenhüttl chose to start him in goal, instead of Alex McCarthy, for the first time since the 1-0 win over Liverpool in early January. On this occasion, though, the change was a tactical one rather than an enforced switch.
Also back in the side were Moussa Djenepo and Danny Ings, who were both substitutes in last week’s 3-0 defeat at Leeds, as Hasenhüttl made three changes in total, with Nathan Tella dropping to the bench and Oriol Romeu missing out altogether after his season-ending injury at Elland Road.
Jan Bednarek continued at right-back, while Romeu’s absence meant Stuart Armstrong dropped back alongside captain James Ward-Prowse in the centre of midfield.
Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti made three changes of his own, as Allan, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Dominic Calvert-Lewin were all restored following the 2-0 win at Liverpool in their most recent outing, with Seamus Coleman, James Rodríguez and Tom Davies all dropping out of the squad.
Two of those changes, Calvert-Lewin and Sigurdsson, would play crucial roles as Everton took a ninth-minute lead.
Jordan Pickford’s long clearance was aimed towards Calvert-Lewin, who challenged with Mohammed Salisu about 30 yards out. As a result, the ball looped directly up in the air, with Ward-Prowse then joining his teammate in jumping for the second ball against the Everton striker, only for it to be knocked down to Sigurdsson. He spun 25 yards out and quickly played in Richarlison, who latched onto the pass, touched it round Forster and finished with his right foot from a tight angle.
The goal in fact came from what was the only opportunity of any note for either side in the opening stages, with the next effort not arriving until 18 minutes when Nathan Redmond fizzed a volley over from just outside the angle of the area after a corner was cleared in his direction.
Everton then looked as though they had doubled their lead with what was their second chance of the night, on 25 minutes, as Lucas Digne swung a free-kick from the right channel towards the back post area, where Mason Holgate nodded it down for Michael Keane to head home. Fortunately for Saints, though, a VAR review showed Holgate to have been offside, and the goal was disallowed.
Almost immediately, Saints then went close to equalising. Ings was fouled by Holgate just outside the left edge of the box, with Ward-Prowse whipping a clever ball towards the bottom corner at the near post. It looked like the effort might have caught Pickford out, but a diving Calvert-Lewin was able to flick a header from the edge of his six-yard box just wide of the post, before receiving the plaudits of his teammates for the intervention.
There was danger for Saints back at the other end on 36 minutes, as Everton won another free-kick in an almost identical spot to the one from which Keane had his goal ruled out.
This time, Sigurdsson provided the delivery, bending in a right-footed cross, with Richarlison’s run beating the offside, but as the ball dropped to him in a good position he couldn’t get much purchase with an outstretched right boot and flicked the ball well wide of the far post.
As the half neared its conclusion, Saints had a penalty appeal turned down – Ché Adams feeling he was tripped by Ben Godfrey as he spun the defender in an attempt to reach Ings’s chipped pass forward, but referee Martin Atkinson was happy there was no offence committed.
That proved to be the last moment of any note in the opening 45 minutes, before the early stages of the second half began with Everton getting a good sight of goal, via a free-kick 25 yards out that came about as a result of a foul on Calvert-Lewin, but Sigurdsson’s effort hit the wall and spun behind for a corner that Saints dealt with.
The visitors were then indebted to Jannik Vestergaard on 58 minutes, as he was well-placed inside his six-yard box to head a Godfrey shot behind, after the ball had dropped to him 12 yards out when Saints attempted to clear a free-kick delivered into their area.
After Salisu headed wide from a Ward-Prowse corner just after the hour mark, the centre-back was then withdrawn from the action, as Hasenhüttl opted to send Tella on. That resulted in a switch that saw Bednarek move to centre-back and Djenepo drop in on the right side of defence, with Tella playing ahead of him.
Hasenhüttl would later switch wingers, with Redmond and Tella swapping sides, as he attempted to find some way of penetrating the Everton defence in the final 20 minutes.
A further change followed on 77 minutes as young striker Dan Nlundulu was handed another opportunity, replacing Adams in attack.
Everton were proving stubborn opponents, though, and were using their own height to good effect in dealing with a series of Ward-Prowse corners and free-kick deliveries.As the game entered the final ten minutes, Richarlison's goal – still the only shot on target in the game – continued to separate the teams, but Saints were at least finding themselves with the ball high up the pitch more regularly.Finally, on 84 minutes, they crafted their best chance of the night, as a smart passage of play ended with Armstrong slipping in Djenepo on the right side of the box, but, from a fine position, his shot towards the far corner went the wrong side of the post.Saints' final change followed soon after, as Caleb Watts was sent on for Redmond, before the equaliser so nearly arrived in the 90th minute.A Ward-Prowse corner was cleared to Djenepo on the edge of the box, with his shot being blocked, before the ball pinged around and fell to Vestergaard in space a few yards out, but his effort was well smothered by Pickford, and with it went Saints' hopes of salvaging a late point.