Southampton 2 Everton 0
The wheels came off Everton's charge for Champions League qualification as two first-half own goals and a toothless attacking performance condemned them to a 2-0 Premier League defeat at Southampton on Saturday.
Roberto Martinez’s side have now lost two of their last three games and, with just two matches of their season remaining, are a point behind fourth place Arsenal who have played one fewer.
Having benefited from three own goals and a penalty in their previous five Premier League matches, the tables were turned on Saturday when the Merseysiders fell behind in less than a minute when Antolin Alcaraz headed into his own net.
Misfortune turned to calamity when Séamus Coleman steered another header past his own keeper on 31 and a poor day at the office was compounded when referee Michael Oliver booked Leon Osman for diving in the second half when he was clearly tripped in the area.
The victory kept Southampton in eighth place, five points adrift of Manchester United in seventh, a potential Europa League qualification place.
Martinez is not giving up hope of a top-four finish just yet. He told BT Sport1: “Not at all, from our point of view it doesn’t change at all. We have had eight wins in 10 games, that’s a phenomenal return and allows us to go into the next two games trying to get maximum points.
“We are working towards the biggest points tally that we can get and at the end of the season, we will see where that takes us.
“You cannot underestimate the good run that the team has been in. Today was a real setback, but we’ll learn from this. We’re still a very young group, the amount of changes we had to make made it extra difficult today, but we’ll be ready for next Saturday.”
Everton’s backline was largely makeshift, with first choice centre-halves Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin unavailable, and, while Martinez took heart from the improvements his defence showed after going two goals down, he admitted his team could not respond to the setback.
“I think it’s quite clear the two goals we gave away were very, very rare to see in a game. From that point on, we got a affected a little bit. We got a bit frustrated, we weren’t our normal selves,” the Spaniard added.
“We were unfortunate today in the way we conceded the goals. After that we came a little bit stronger in the second half, but we never had that confident look that we normally have to get that goal that would have been a good opportunity to get back into the game.
“Everything that could have gone wrong defensively, it did, and it was very difficult from that point on.”