Southampton's barnstorming start fizzles out in tame draw with Everton
Perhaps it was appropriate that, after an evening of such mild protest after the brutal sacking of Nigel Adkins, Southampton’s evening should end up fizzling out in a tame draw.
The departed manager was remembered here not with ferocious abuse directed at the club’s executive chairman, Nicola Cortese, but with polite respect for the achievement of hoisting this club 51 places in 26 months. Mauricio Pochettino, surveying Adkins’ team as his own for the first time, can be encouraged by more than just the qualities inherited from his predecessor.
The Argentinean will still wonder whether this was a missed opportunity. Certainly his team’s first-half endeavours deserved to secure victory.
With Gaston Ramirez directing the hosts’ attacks cleverly, and Rickie Lambert a menacing focal point up front, constantly and disconcertingly drifting into space between centre-halves, the locals threatened to run riot and should have dispatched Everton by the break.
The visitors were left wheezing by the ferocity of it all: it was only Southampton’s profligacy and Tim Howard’s excellence that ensured the evening retained a sense of contest beyond the half-hour mark.
Quite how Lambert failed to convert a pair of free headers just before the interval was baffling, the first cleared from the line by a mixture of Nikica Jelavic and Leighton Baines after Jason Puncheon’s corner had prompted panic.
Jos Hooiveld was denied at close-range by Howard when the loose ball was lofted back into the six-yard box, with Everton defenders still dazed and confused. The American was performing a lone hand, his saves from Ramirez and Lambert, again, when the striker cut inside Phil Jagielka, admirable.
When Howard was beaten, Lambert’s free-kick from 30 yards thumped against the angle of post and bar.
It was hard to recall an Everton side appearing so befuddled, but Fellaini’s shot at the near-post upon the resumption, gratefully gathered by Artur Boruc, hinted at revival. That was maintained by Maya Yoshida’s flick to divert Leon Osman’s half-volley over the bar, and Boruc’s fine save from the Victor Anichebe’s drive.
Even so, Jelavic, alone in front of goal at Anichebe’s centre, should not have offered the home side the chance to scramble away, his rather muddled attempt to convert rather summing up his night.