Tuesday, January 31

Dwight McNeil seals quickfire comeback for Everton at Southampton


A few minutes after the final whistle Frank Lampard looked into a packed away end, licking his lips, all smiles at the sight of Everton supporters basking in successive victories and a rare away win. Amadou Onana and a topless Idrissa Gueye bounced in tandem with the fans belting out Spirit of the Blues, joyously dancing along in celebration.

It is too early to conclude that Lampard has revived Everton but after six league games unbeaten it at least feels he is on to something. The outlook does not seem so rosy for Ralph Hasenhüttl, whose Southampton side registered another largely listless performance symptomatic of the kind that raises questions over where they are heading.

Everton grabbed a haphazard game by the scruff of the neck but had to rouse after trailing to Joe Aribo’s strike early in the second half, having dominated before the interval. Dwight McNeil and Conor Coady scored their first Everton goals across three second-half minutes to consign Southampton to a third straight defeat and a 14th loss from their past 20 league matches. For Everton, this represented only their second win on the road from 21 trips.

For a long time this was an error-strewn game neither team truly deserved to win. Everton were much the better team in the first half but encouraging moves repeatedly stalled in the final stages. Demarai Gray whizzed past Armel Bella-Kotchap, who made his Germany debut against England on Monday, but after scurrying forward his shot lacked conviction.

Gray nevertheless caused havoc and his teasing cross into the six-yard box forced a vital intervention from Gavin Bazunu before Neal Maupay sent a header straight at the Southampton goalkeeper. At least they made it that far, with Southampton subdued until taking the lead four minutes into the second half.

The opening goal stemmed from an Everton lapse. Gueye squandered possession and the 18-year-old Juan Larios, signed from Manchester City this summer, carried the ball upfield with a gumption that was previously lacking. Aribo took the baton and played a one-two with Che Adams, before stroking the ball diagonally into the corner. Lampard flung his right hand towards the pitch in frustration, fearful his side’s profligacy would be punished.

Ralph Hasenhüttl looks anxious during his Southampton side’s defeat
Ralph Hasenhüttl looks anxious during his Southampton side’s defeat. Photograph: Chris Radburn/Reuters

Lampard’s emotions soon turned. Three minutes later Everton were level and five minutes later they were in front. Gray’s wide free-kick from the left arced towards the back post, where Onana towered above Sékou Mara to send a commanding header across goal and Coady applied the simplest of finishes, tapping in from on the line.

But before Everton seized the lead they had to survive a Southampton attack, Pickford superbly denying Adams before his defenders made a series of last-ditch blocks. Everton countered and Alex Iwobi’s cross eluded Onana but landed at the back post where McNeil took a touch and blasted in on the half-volley. Onana could have increased Everton’s margin of victory but, perhaps put off by McNeil, headed wide from a superb Seamus Coleman cross.

Lampard’s response when asked whether his side would have stirred to win this game last season was telling of the spirit and character in his squad these days. “We didn’t, [we] came here and lost 2-0 in my fourth game,” the Everton manager said. “We were in the game, then they scored and we didn’t really have anything about us to get back in the game. I think it shows the progression – it is certainly not the end of the story because we need a lot more to get where we want to get to – but it is a positive that we have a stronger spine about us now.”

Southampton, to their credit, refused to go under and the substitute Adam Armstrong twice went close. Armstrong forced a fine save from Jordan Pickford, who excelled on his return in front of the England goalkeeping coach Martyn Margetson following a thigh injury.

The debutant Duje Caleta-Car volleyed wide into six minutes of second-half stoppage time but in the end they got what they deserved. “Premier League football is brutal,” Hasenhüttl said. “When you don’t score, you concede. This is what this young team has to learn. It is not enough to invest and create, create, create. You have to be decisive. Young and talented is nice but it is about learning fast.”

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