Everton FC’s bid for Champions League football appeared to self destruct at St Mary’s as a brace of own goals from Antolin Alcaraz and Seamus Coleman saw them slump to defeat.
The Blues had a couple of strong-looking penalty shouts in the second period when Dejan Lovren looked to bring down substitute Leon Osman and then James McCarthy – the former was booked for simulation in his incident – but in truth they deserved little from this sorry performance.
Southampton 2 Everton 0
Having coped so admirably during skipper Phil Jagielka’s prolonged absence with a hamstring injury, this proved a game too far for Roberto Martinez’s men without the leadership and talking at the back of their influential captain.
The England international is now on course to finally make a return against Manchester City next Saturday but it appears to be too late to save the Toffees’ dream of competing in the European game’s elite competition next season.
How Everton could have done with Jagielka’s organisational skills in these testing conditions but with veteran Sylvain Distin sidelined for the season with a hamstring problem, their normally assured rearguard was left in disarray by a couple of self-inflicted errors.
Injuries had forced Martinez to make two changes to the side that started the 2-0 win over Manchester United six days earlier.
Both Distin and Kevin Mirallas (groin) are now expected to be out for the remainder of the campaign so Alcaraz and Gerard Deulofeu stepped up to the starting line-up. On the bench, 16-year-old Liverpool-born midfielder Ryan Ledson was included in the senior squad for the first time.
Everton got off to a nightmare start as Alcaraz headed past stand-in skipper Tim Howard with barely a minute on the clock.
Lifelong Liverpool fan and World Cup hopeful Rickie Lambert cut inside from the left and his right foot cross was inadvertently but spectacularly nodded in by the Paraguayan under pressure from Sam Gallagher.
The Blues had a major let-off in the 21st minute as Lambert again turned provider, marauding inside from the left before cutting back a square pass to Steven Davis only for the midfielder to skew his effort wide of Howard’s left hand post with the goal gaping.
Everton’s first real chance of any note came just before the half hour mark when Leighton Baines whipped in a free-kick from the left but visiting players were able to make contact.
Unfortunately Martinez’s men were far more clinical at the other end and amazingly with 31 minutes on the clock, the Blues suffered another self-inflicted wound as Nathaniel Clyne’s right wing cross was headed into his own net by Coleman.
It was galling enough that lightning had struck twice but while Alcaraz’s effort was wild and spectacular, Coleman’s header was seemingly cushioned and controlled but caught his keeper totally flat-footed.
Scarcely able to believe their good fortune the home fans mocked Everton with the chant: “Who needs Rodriguez we’ve got your back four” in reference to their striker who recently suffered a long-term injury.
After not getting much change out of Southampton’s defence down the left flank, Deulofeu switched to the right and managed to find Romelu Lukaku with an accurate delivery but the on-loan striker headed over the bar.
The Saints then had a penalty claim rejected when the ball bounced up onto John Stones’ arm from an attempted Adam Lallana cross from close range.
Following an unimpressive first half from everyone in a royal blue jersey, Martinez decided to make a change at the interval with veteran Leon Osman replacing youngster Ross Barkley.
Everton still found chances at a premium and when a rare opportunity arose for Steven Naismith after Southampton failed to clear their lines from a Deulofeu free-kick, the Scot’s effort was deflected wide.
On-loan Barcelona starlet Deulofeu had endured a frustrating afternoon with few of his tricks coming off and his individualistic approach appearing out of sync with his team-mates’ tempo and just before the hour he was withdrawn in favour of Aiden McGeady.
Lambert had the home fans on their feet again as he flashed a powerfully-struck free-kick just wide, clipping Howard’s left-hand post.
If the own goals alone had not demonstrated that this was not going to be Everton’s day, Osman’s debatable booking for diving sealed their fate.
The substitute appeared to be clipped on the edge of the area by Dejan Lovren but referee Michael Oliver deemed no contact had been made and showed Osman the yellow card.
McGeady’s dancing feet had a more immediate impact as he fashioned a tempting left-wing cross for Lukaku but while he managed to make good contact on his header it was straight into the arms of Artur Boruc.
In a similar fashion to the first half, their were loud screams from the home fans for a penalty when Lallana again struck the ball against Stones’ arm but the defender was in such close proximity to his opponent there was little he could do about it and Oliver waved away the claims.
There looked no way back into the game for Everton but they seemed to miss out on another potential lifeline nine minutes from the end when following a tussle in penalty area, Lovren this time appeared to pin James McCarthy to the ground with his arm.
With a minute left on the clock, Martinez handed left-back Luke Garbutt his Premier League debut as the youngster came on for Baines.
Having worked so hard to try and overhaul Arsenal for fourth place, the Blues brave bid ultimately looks to have gone out with a whimper
Martinez’s men have been depending on the Gunners faltering to achieve their aims but their hopes appear to have been shot down by a couple of self-inflicted wounds.