Southampton’s fine form continued as second-half goals from Stuart Armstrong and Shane Long secured a comfortable victory over Everton at St Mary’s.
The visitors started both halves with purpose, but both times Saints were able to bounce back and overwhelm their opponents, and should really have held a half-time lead.
Instead they had to wait until the 52nd minute to make their dominance count, as Armstrong scored for the second home game running, following up his FA Cup wonder strike with his first Premier League goal of the season.
Everton hung in the game as long as they could, but Long wrapped up the points with a late header, heading home Tino Livramento’s cross with virtually his first touch of the ball.
That’s now one defeat in 11 games for Saints, who continue to go from strength to strength since the turn of the year.
Ralph Hasenhüttl was denied the opportunity to name the same starting line-up for a third successive game, as Romain Perraud reported a positive Covid-19 test, prompting the return of Livramento and the shifting of Kyle Walker-Peters to left-back.
Jan Bednarek was fit to continue at the heart of the defence, having been substituted at half time last time out, while there was no place in the matchday squad for Nathan Redmond despite his return to fitness.
Hasenhüttl spoke of Everton’s “much more energetic” approach under new manager Frank Lampard ahead of the game, which was evident from the first whistle at St Mary’s.
Right-back Seamus Coleman was very advanced, causing problems with his crossing, while the visitors had two penalty claims turned down in the opening five minutes.
First Anthony Gordon went down rather too easily having got beyond Livramento, before VAR inspected a handball from Oriol Romeu, but his arm was down by his side and the midfielder escaped an early scare.
Saints’ first attack immediately carved out a chance for top scorer Armando Broja. Fed by Ché Adams, the striker had the pace to race clear of the last defender, but Jordan Pickford rushed out to shut down the angles and deny the Albanian.
Walker-Peters’s versatility saw the defender deployed as the right-sided No 10 in the latter stages at Old Trafford last weekend. He seems to be effective wherever he plays, and Allan went into the book inside 14 minutes for bringing him down in full flight.
Another foul by the Brazilian, this time on Armstrong, presented an opportunity for James Ward-Prowse from a 25-yard free-kick.
Whilst the skipper would have preferred the ball to be positioned further to the left, this one was to the right of the goal but still required Pickford to perform a flying save to tip the ball around the far post for a corner.
By the half-hour mark Saints were dominant. Mohamed Elyounoussi’s shot from the left was too tame to trouble Pickford, before Walker-Peters brilliantly kept the ball in play, traded passes with the Norwegian and saw his shot blocked by an Everton hand, but referee Andy Madley was consistent: no penalty.
The hosts should have taken a deserved lead when Ward-Prowse fizzed in a clever low corner from the right begging for a finish, but Livramento could only connect with his shins, giving Pickford the opportunity to make a point-blank stop.
Saints kept coming. Broja jinked inside only to be denied by a flying block, before Jan Bednarek’s header clipped the crossbar, albeit the defender was subsequently flagged offside.
Meanwhile, the outstanding Walker-Peters embarked on another surge, drilling a low shot that clipped the outside of the post on its way wide.
Only a goal was missing from an impressive first-half performance, as Lampard set about turning the tide by withdrawing Allan, who was probably one foul away from a red card.
The visitors began the second period as they had started the first: in the ascendancy. Dominic Calvert-Lewin had the ball in the net when he headed home a cross from the left, but Saints had pushed up from the preceding corner, and the goalscorer was one of a handful of blue shirts in an offside position.
It’s a brave tactic that also caught out Tottenham and Manchester United last week, who both had the ball in the net from set-piece situations only to celebrate prematurely.
It did not take long for the net to ripple again, but this time at the other end as Armstrong broke the deadlock with a fine finish.
Saints attacked in numbers, and Armstrong was the spare man when spotted by Adams, who played the ball to his right for his fellow Scot, who had time to take a touch and pick his spot with a perfectly-placed shot low inside Pickford’s near post.
In similar fashion to the first half, Saints had been second best out of the blocks but were quickly into their stride.
Adams and Elyounoussi both forced routine saves from Pickford, before Adams and Armstrong combined again, as this time the midfielder’s shot dipped just too late and skimmed the top of the net on its way over.
Saints had the lead but should really have had the game wrapped up when Ward-Prowse produced a virtually undefendable free-kick from the right.
Red and white shirts were queuing up at the far post, but Elyounoussi’s stooping header from just a couple of yards out hit the crossbar, ensuring Everton stayed in the game.
Pickford helped keep them in it, adding to his growing number of saves with a sharp stop to repel another shot from the relentless Walker-Peters.
But it was the introduction of Long on 83 minutes that got Saints over the line, as the veteran striker met Livramento’s far-post cross with that trademark spring, beating Pickford with a downward header back across the keeper to make the game safe.