Everton 2-1 Southampton: Lukaku fires Blues into fourth

Everton overcame an impressive Southampton side to take all three points at Goodison Park.

Seamus Coleman gave the home side the lead inside 10 minutes with an inch-perfect strike from inside the box. Southampton flexed their passing muscle with a fine display and equalised through substitute Gaston Ramirez in the second half.

But Romelu Lukaku ended his five-game goal drought three minutes later, finishing left-footed after James McCarthy’s pass.

The Blues were forced into changes to their starting line-up after their Boxing Day defeat to Sunderland.

Joel Robles started for the suspended Tim Howard, while Gareth Barry’s fifth yellow card four days ago saw him miss out. Leighton Baines was welcomed back after more than a month out with a broken toe, while Steven Naismith started on the right instead of Kevin Mirallas.

It meant Bryan Oviedo was pushed up to left midfield as Steven Pienaar looked on from the bench.

Everton looked for a response having foiled their own undefeated home run in 2013 on Boxing Day and Goodison Park was in full voice when they took an early lead.

Coleman has been in fine form this season and has seen encouraging performances under David Moyes now being rewarded with goals under Roberto Martinez. This one was all his own making, doing superbly well to beat his man in the penalty area before unleashing a cross-goal shot that flew into the top corner.

It was the perfect start for the Blues but Southampton never looked fazed by the task in front of them. Goodison has been used to watching patient and passing football this season, but not usually from the opposition. The Saints’ sytle under Maricio Pochettino is similar to Matinez’s and they stuck to their philosophy even when Everton didn’t look comfortable doing so.

Adam Lallana spurned the visitor’s best chance of the first half, dragging his shot wide after doing well to fashion the opportunity.

Naismith went down under the challenge of Dejan Lovren earlier on but the award of a penalty would have been harsh on the Southampton man who seemed to out-muscle rather than foul the Scot.

The first half was not one of an abundance of chances but Everton would have been delighted to see the half out with their noses in front as they struggled to make anything of note in way of goal-scoring opportunities.

Lukaku in particular was starved to the point that he came wide on a number of occasions to seek action, leaving Saints’ centre defence partnership to build unchallenged from the back.

The second half continued in a similar fashion, with the visitors looking much like the home side, such was their possession and composure with the ball. When Everton did get hold of the ball, their passing looked nervy, especially in and around their own half.

Southampton excelled in pressing Everton when they had possession and Baines was forced into conceding in a dangerous position which fortunately came to nothing.

Around the hour mark Oviedo picked out Ross Barkley but the midfielder’s attempt to pass the ball into the corner saw his effort bobble just wide. And not long after the chance to go 2-0 up went agonisingly wide, Southampton equalised in the 72nd minute.

Ramires was introduced in the second half and levelled with his first meaningful contribution, getting away from his marker before unleashing a powerful drive from 20-yards which beat keeper Robles.

The Spaniard looked to be beaten by the swerve but replays show that the summer signing from Athletico Madrid should have done a lot better. Ramires’ shot was very close to the stopper, with his erratic attempt at saving it suggesting he completely misjudged its flight.

But the Blues were not pegged back for long. Steven Pienaar- introduced in the second half for the unfortunate Oviedo- had the time to pick out the surging run of McCarthy who did well to shift the ball back across goal. Lukaku was left in acres of space to run on to the pass and finished emphatically to the keeper’s right.

And the goal breathed fresh confidence into the Belgian’s play, who looked far more effective with the ball, not least around the Southampton penalty area. The striker almost added a third following a neat turn and a couple of step overs before shooting just over from outside the area.

Whilst Everton could have added to their lead, the visitors were keen to send their following band of supporters back down south with something to shout about, and they continued to play some of the best football Goodison has seen from an away side all season.

It was by no means vintage stuff from Everton and Southampton fans will not be disheartened by their team’s performance which perhaps warranted a bit more. But the Blues needed a response following the disappointment of Boxing Day and Martinez’s men came up with goods, taking into account the bite of injuries and suspensions which somewhat crippled the Blues.

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