Southampton 4 Everton 1: On the day Martin O’Neill emerged as a leading contender to fill the vacancy at Goodison Park, Everton provided a clear illustration of the task confronting the successor to Ronald Koeman.
O’Neill is believed to figure at the head of a three-man shortlist compiled by Farhad Moshiri, the club’s owner, after two approaches for Watford’s Marco Silva came to nothing. So far the efforts of the Everton board to replace Koeman have come to nothing and yesterday’s loss at Southampton marked the seventh game with David Unsworth, the caretaker-manager who harbours hopes of landing the job on a permanent basis, at the helm, five of which have been defeats.
The manner of the capitulation at St Mary’s Stadium, coming just three days after the 5-1 humiliation at home to Atalanta in the Europa League will surely focus minds. Outplayed and fortunate to level through Gylfi Sigurdsson on the stroke of half-time after Dusan Tadic had put the home side ahead, Everton were eventually well beaten by two second-half headers from Charlie Austin and a fourth from Steve Davis.
Unsworth is in no doubt about the need to resolve the situation quickly. “It’s killing me,” he said. “I take responsibility, but we all have to as well. We’re in a tough place and things have to change quickly. Confidence is as low as it has ever been.
“The club has to decide and the sooner that happens the better. The players need this resolving. What I see is a happy squad but I’d rather have an unhappy squad that’s winning. I want what’s best for the club and I hope the players do too.
He added: “If the players didn’t know they were in a tough situation they must do now, it is evident.”
Everton have now conceded 28 goals, the highest in the Premier League, and the club’s highest tally after 13 league games in 1958.
If Austin could have cherry-picked opponents on which to vent his frustration after finally being handed a league start after a season spent on the bench, he couldn’t have chosen better.
The striker missed a good chance and struck the post in the first 12 minute before Tadic finally put Saints ahead in the 18th minute when he capped a sweeping break by collecting Ryan Bertrand low ball towards the edge of the box and sending a clever finish beyond Jordan Pickford.
Everton offered little by way of response until Sigurdsson conjured his first goal for the club out of nothing, beating Fraser Forster with a long-range chip that struck bar, post and bar again before bouncing over the line.
A lifeline had been dangled but Unsworth’s side failed to grab it. Instead, they went walkabout when Bertrand crossed for Austin to head home in the 52nd minute and then again when Tadic provided the service for the forward’s second.
From then it was a case of damage limitation for Everton with Davis finally adding the fourth three minutes from time leaving Unsworth to confront another painful inquest.
Forster 6; Cedric 7, Van Dijk 7, Hoedt 7, Bertrand 8; Hojbjerg 7, Davis 7; Ward-Prowse 6, Tadic 8 (Lemina 78,6), Boufal 7 (Yoshida 86); Austin 9 (Long 80,6).
Subs not used:
McCarthy, McQueen, Gabbiadini, Redmond
Pickford 6; Kenny 5, Jagielka 5, Keane 5 (Vlasic 75, 6), Baines 5 (Williams 27,6); Schneiderlin 4, Gueye 5; Lennon 5, Sigurdsson 6, Mirallas 5 (Lookman 64,6); Calvert-Lewin 7.
Subs not used:
Robles, Ramirez, Rooney, Baningime.
Kevin Friend 6
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved