Everton all but gift-wrapped fourth spot to Champions League chasing Arsenal on Saturday, tying it up with a neat bow in the form of two own-goals.
Their 2-0 defeat to Southampton has given the Gunners an even bigger incentive ahead of their Premier League clash at home to Newcastle on Monday night. If Arsenal take all three points at the Emirates Stadium, they will open up a four point gap between themselves and Everton.
With Manchester City on the horizon, the gap is likely to be too much for the Blues to recover from, while one more point is needed from their remaining two games to guarantee a place in the Europa League.
Below we take a look at 5 Talking Points from the defeat at St Mary’s and what it means going forward.
‘OG’ stands for “Oh God, (not another)”
Conceding one own-goal in the first minute of a game is bad enough, but putting another past your own keeper is just embarrassing. There was an abundance of optimism heading into Saturday’s early kick-off, but Evertonians should always be wary of optimism. It’s just a kick in the teeth away from sobering realism.
Antolin Alcaraz’s 52nd second header past Tim Howard set the tone for a miserable afternoon and it was a moment from which Everton as a team never recovered. Of course at 1-0 and with 89 minutes still to play, Everton were technically still in the game. Until Seamus Coleman out-done his team mate, and put the Saints 2-0 up after half an hour.
If they were poor moments of decision making mixed with ill-fortune, the second half felt like 45 minutes of injustice for the travelling Blues. Gerard Deulofeu was wrongly called offside when the Spaniard had at least a full stride to spare; Leon Osman was denied a penalty after being caught by Dejan Lovren and (just to add insult to injury) was promptly booked for ‘simulation’; and James McCarthy was blatantly prevented from escaping the orbit of Jose Fonte, also in the penalty area.
Just one of them days, eh. Still, it could be worse. Remember Jon Walters’ two own-goals in Stokes 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Chelsea? It’s bad enough scoring two own goals in the same game (one a beauty of a diving header, if I don’t say) but the Wallasey-born striker started the game by smashing the ball into his own face and ended it by missing a penalty. If you’re reading Jon, you might want to look away now
Perhaps there’s even consolation for poor Jon, a boy-hood Blue. In 1972 Everton’s Tommy Wright scored past his own keeper after just 35 seconds of the Merseyside derby. Clearly keen to make amends the following Saturday, Wright set about getting himself on the scoresheet against Manchester City. It took him even less time to find the net, only it was once again past his own keeper.
Sorry Blues, I did try to pick out an own-goal stat not related to Everton but that took some beating. Okay, how about the Premier League’s top scorer of own-goals. Sitting pretty with 10, it’s Richard Dunne who made his name with Aston Villa and…er, oh..Everton…damn.
To hell with it, Jamie Carragher is the second highest scorer of own-goals in the league with 7 and the Kopite finished his career having scored more goals past his own keeper than he did at the other end. Here’s ‘Carra’ netting two for United at Anfield. Ah, that’s better.
Tails between their legs; licking their wounds. Any more dog metaphors?
As over-used as the above images may be, they certainly illustrate the point. With the ill-fortune of one and then two own-goals behind them, Everton simply never got going and they looked like a team feeling very sorry for themselves.
Everton’s performance at St Mary’s lacked the energy and vibrancy of recent games and as a result they made a comfortable Southampton – who barely had to shift out of 1st gear- look like the ones gunning for a top four place. While Southampton were purposeful, Everton were unsure. When the Saints were slick in their passing, the Toffees came unstuck.
Ultimately it’s a sad way to effectively bow out of a race for Champions League football which looked set to go to wire, even if Arsenal were favourites before Saturday’s lunch-time KO and would have remained so even had we won.
But let’s not take the canine imagery too far. Everton may have left the south coast with their tails between their legs, but they can stop short of the dog-house. Roberto Martinez’s first season in charge has been above and beyond Evertonian’s expectations and the Catalan and the players deserve nothing but credit, not only for the results but for their stylish performances.
After being told he could take Everton no further than David Moyes did, Martinez is showing that you can teach an old dog new tricks.
Could Howard have prevented own-goals?
The blame-game is not a nice one to have to play, especially when own-goals are concerned. While no one sets out to score and own-goal -and although team mates are reluctant to say so- the scorer has to take responsibility for what is, on the face of it, a massive balls-up.
Sometimes they can’t be helped, like the ones that simply move so fast or hit the unsuspecting defender from such close range that there’s just no time to move out of the way from. Other times, you mean to do one thing and end up doing something else entirely.
Alcaraz was certainly guilty of the latter, clearly trying to head the ball out for a corner. Perhaps he could have moved his feet a bit quicker, so that he was better positioned to get his big Paraguayan head fully behind the ball rather than just glance at it. But then again, perhaps Howard could have been more alert to the possible danger? After all, if it had been a Southampton player, his near post would have been exactly the spot he’d have needed to cover.
Okay, maybe that’s a little harsh on the American. How about Coleman’s goal? It’s certainly easier to point the finger of blame anywhere other than the Irishman on this one, and we should genuinely feel sorry for him on this one. John Stones after all was nailed on to head the cross away, before his skimmed effort meant it met Coleman’s head almost without warning.
With little time to react, the ball rather bounced off his head and past Howard rather than his head meeting the ball. But again, could Howard have helped out? Could the experienced stopper with 97 caps for his country have been the commanding presence clearly missing from the absence of Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin?
And I don’t just mean in that particular moment. Howard is one of Everton’s senior and most experience players, and with the likes of 19 year old Stones and the injury-hit Alcaraz ahead of him he should be doing more to organise his defence and help give confidence to the back four.
Was McGeady unfortunate not to start ahead of Deulofeu?
Gerard Deulofeu has contributed some ‘exceptional moments’ (in the language of Roberto) to Everton’s season and I’m sure most Evertonians would love to keep the Spaniard on for another season. But there’s a danger that Everton could get into the trap of over-relying on the winger and this was evident on Saturday.
The disastrous start meant that from the second minute, Everton were in a state of panic as they frantically chased the game. With Barkley wandering inside from his initial starting position on the right, Everton’s play was channelled down the left where Leighton Baines supported Deulofeu. But this put an enormous responsibility on the young-man’s shoulders and Southampton were clever in exploiting this.
Even on a good day (and the Spaniard was one of Everton’s brighter players) Deulofeu can be predictable, opting to slow play right down, get very close to the full back and try and make him commit. Unfortunately Nathaniel Clyne did an excellent job in standing up to him and out-muscled him on several occasions, even mounting attacks where the winger lost out.
Deulofeu’s attributes are better utilised as a substitute, coming on late in games to help stretch the play and worry teams trying to over-turn a deficit. And whereas Deulofeu likes to leave it to the last minute to cross the ball (if it ever comes at all) Aiden McGeady is a more complete wide man.
The Irishman has as much skill as Deulofeu, won’t be embarrased in a footrace and is more deadly from the wide positions. Instead of arrowing diagonally into the box as Geri likes to do, McGeady’s preference is to use every inch of the wide areas before producing crossed with pace and accuracy.
The Irishman put one on the head of Romelu Lukaku when he came on as a substitute in the second half and there’s no doubt he will be feeling disappointed not to have started more games recently. With Mirallas out for the season, McGeady has the maturity to step up and fill the creative void left by the Belgian in the final two games of the season.
One? Two? Nine injuries too many?
Injuries aren’t anything new to Everton and they’ve certainly had their fair share throughout the season. Darron Gibson and Arouna Kone were ruled out for the season early on, while the Christmas period really took it’s toll on Everton’s meagre squad.
Lukaku, Steven Pienaar, Deulofeu, Ross Barkley, Phil Jagielka, Sylvain Distin and Leighton Baines all missed games over the festive season while McGeady arrived at Goodison in January having enjoyed one too many mince pies.
But despite the number of fallen comrades in the New Year, Everton just about ticked along and nothing was really made of the dwindling numbers. However when you do take a peek inside the treatment room, you’ll see no fewer than nine players receiving treatment and likely to be out for the remainder of the season.
Consider these numbers, and it’s not surprising that Everton eventually fell to such a disappointing loss as that witnessed at St Mary’s. Everton chased down a 14 point difference to overhaul Arsenal a few weeks ago, and while it’s all gone a bit sour since the 3-0 win over the Gunners, this achievement should not be scoffed at.
The likes of James McCarthy, Gareth Barry, Lukaku, Baines, Coleman, Stones and Howard have had to play with an incredible intensity week-in-week-out and with little rotation so it’s no surprise there was something lacking on Saturday.
And with Barry ineligible for the visit of Manchester City this weekend, Martinez’s men now find themselves in a battle for fifth, never mind fourth.