Southampton were cruelly denied a win over a lacklustre Everton side at Goodison Park on Saturday evening – which, in turn, means that West Brom’s slim survival hopes are still alive.
Nathan Redmond’s first ever headed goal in the Premier League rounded off an impressive Southampton move, which was one of few moments of quality in a match which had ‘end of season’ written all over it.
However, a deflected Tom Davies effort in the last minute of added time left the Saints feeling utterly deflated – even though a point still took them out of the drop zone.
With Premier League survival guaranteed some time ago and no realistic chance of European football next season, the Toffees had nothing more than pride to play for – unlike the visitors, who are fighting for their Premier League lives.
The first half had all the quality you would expect of a clash between two sides which have failed to inspire this season. Apart from a decent effort by Tom Davies which fizzed narrowly wide in the fourth minute, and a Cenk Tosun header which sailed over the bar nine minutes later, the home side offered no goal threat of note in the opening exchanges.
Not that the visitors were exactly scintillating, either – until Charlie Austin fizzed in a 25 yard drive in the 21st minute which Jordan Pickford did well to stop, they were also fairly innocuous.
A low Oriel Romeu strike forced another good save from Pickford in the 31st minute – albeit one that a keeper of his calibre would expect to make. That really was as good as it got in the first half, after which Everton were understandably booed off.
Although Sam Allardyce has more than fulfilled his remit of steadying the Everton ship after a distinctly rocky start to the season under Ronald Koeman, it has often been difficult to reconcile the quality of Everton’s football with their motto, ‘Nil satis nisi optimum’ – which, loosely translated, means ‘only the best is good enough’.
Nevertheless, in Allardyce’s defence, his side evidently missed the flair and creativity of the absent Wayne Rooney and Theo Walcott, both of whom were injured.
At first, the second half continued in much the same sterile fashion as the first. Then, in the 56th minute, Southampton produced arguably the first moment of real quality in the match to take the lead. Cedric Soares made an excellent overlapping run down the right and played in a pinpoint cross, which the totally unmarked Nathan Redmond headed past Pickford with aplomb.
Finally, Everton seemed to have been roused from their slumber, and Allardyce responded immediately, bringing on Oumar Niasse for Nikola Vlasic, who had an ineffectual game – though, to be fair, he was hardly the only one. Niasse seemed to bring Everton a spark of attacking ambition which they had so sorely been lacking, and he narrowly failed to find Tosun with a cross in the 67th minute.
Yet the Saints repelled the Toffees’ pressure with relative ease and continued to threaten the home side on the break, with goalscorer Nathan Redmond troubling the Everton defence on several occasions – including a sweet strike which flew over the bar in the 82nd minute.
When Allardyce brought on Davy Klaassen – who has hardly featured for the Toffees this season – to replace defender Phil Jagielka in the 80th minute, it was hard to tell whether it was an act of desperation or mere indifference.
Even the dismissal of Maya Yoshida for a second bookable offence in the 85th minute did little to help Everton. Redmond might even have scored a second goal for the Saints – only for Pickford to deny him what would have been a wonderful goal after a mazy run through Everton’s static-looking defence.
There was a nervous moment for the Saints when Wesley Hoedt was booked for a wild lunge on Seamus Coleman in added time. Up stepped Leighton Baines to take the free kick, in what looked like a perfect position for him – but Alex McCarthy made a fantastic save and punched away the resulting corner.
Then came the cruel killer blow for the Saints, as Tom Davies’ 20-yard drive took a horrible deflection off Hoedt and earned the Toffees a point they barely deserved.
Nevertheless, a point was sufficient for Mark Hughes’ side to move out of the relegation zone. Their upcoming clash with fellow strugglers Swansea now looks even more critical than ever.
Meanwhile, the Toffees’ flat performance will have done nothing to improve Everton fans’ opinion of their manager.