by Richard Buxton, Goodison Park. Published Sat 04 Apr 2015 18:20, last updated: 04/04/15
Fittingly, on the Easter weekend, Everton are showing genuine signs of a revival.
Southampton’s visit to Goodison Park yielded a third consecutive domestic victory for the hosts as well as a solitary victory over one of the Premier League’s top eight sides.
Ronald Koeman’s side attempt to catch the Blues’ local rivals in the race for Europa League qualification was dented in Liverpool 4. Phil Jagielka’s prodded 16th-minute goal proved the sum of a highlights reel that will doubtless leave many considering alternative viewing.
And whilst a 12-point safety cushion will be welcomed by Evertonians, Roberto Martinez is still struggling to win over some sections of the Goodison faithful in a topsy-turvy season where, even at its twilight, revolt remains but one substitution away.
Replacing Ross Barkley with Muhamed Besic proved its latest instance as audible disapproval emanated from some sections of the Grand Old Lady at Martinez’s decision to try and ward off what has become known as ‘the inevitable’ for his side this season
Tim Howard found himself tested regularly by the visitors as he had to claw away Graziano Pelle’s hooked shot in the opening stages before facing a series of attempts from James Ward-Prowse, one a whistling free kick that saw the Everton goalkeeper rooted to the spot.
Everton’s rebuttal was short-lived but effective. Gareth Barry’s recovery from a Leighton Baines’ corner allowed him to feed Jagielka for a 16th-minute prod to break the deadlock. It was a departure from the sparkling style of Martinez’s philosophy but scrappy has been a necessary evil for Everton this season.
Earlier, Arouna Kone and James McCarthy worked in tandem before Ryan Bertrand warded off the latter’s goal bound attempt. Kone was later guilty of profligacy as he headed Coleman’s cross wide of Kelvin Davis’ right-hand post.
Aaron Lennon continued to endear the home crowd when he swiftly atoned for losing possession to set up, via Kone, Leon Osman before Nathaniel Clyne’s deflection to thwart an Everton onslaught.
When Southampton threatened during the final stages of the first half, Jagielka was on hand again to deny Pelle with a defensive block. His performance throughout was reminiscent of Everton’s vaunted ‘dogs of war’ side of the mid-1990s.
Had he been born two decades prior, he would have certainly made his name in the club’s last trophy-winning team that gained prominence under Joe Royle’s guidance.
“Whoever watches our team will have seen that Phil Jagielka’s been performing at that level in the last three games at least,” said Martinez.
“Today I thought his communication, his work with John Stones and Gareth Barry – those three today were magnificent. The way they were synchronised and coped wih the threat of Southampton was impressive.
“As a captain, that responsibility, that leadership was topped with an important finish. It’s an impressive run of form that Phil’s showing at the moment.”
Koeman’s four-pronged attack, following the introduction of Saido Mane and Dusan Tadic failed to galvanise the visitors after the interval. Their sum attempt was a skied close-range attempt from Jose Fonte after a Clyne cut-back.
EVERTON (4-2-3-1): Howard; Coleman, Stones, Jagielka, Baines; Barry, McCarthy; Osman, Barkley (Besic 70), Lennon; Kone (Naismith 70)
Subs (not used): Robles, Mirallas, Pienaar, Garbutt, Alcaraz
Goals: Jagielka (16)
SOUTHAMPTON (4-2-3-1): K Davis; Clyne, Fonte, Alderweirald (Djuricic 81), Bertrand; Waynama, Schneiderlin; Ward-Prowse (Mane 60), Elia (Tadic 60); Long; Pelle
Subs (not used): Gazzaniga, Yoshida, Reed, Targett.
Referee: L Mason (Lancashire)