Everton 3 Southampton 0
Sam Allardyce may not be the only Premier League manager calling for the head of the fixture organiser. Southampton suffered their third defeat in six days as a heavy workload, combined with the powerful presence of Romelu Lukaku, finally told on Claude Puel's weary team at Everton. Ronald Koeman's men capitalised to devastating late effect.
There was little between two teams competing to be the best of the rest in this Premier League campaign until the closing stages at Goodison Park when the introduction of Enner Valencia gave much-needed support to the commanding Lukaku. Within 11 minutes of his arrival the Ecuador international had opened the scoring with his first goal for his on-loan club, he then won a penalty converted by Leighton Baines before Lukaku sealed victory in emphatic style in the final minute. The finale provided the gloss to an otherwise mundane contest.
Fatigue may have contributed to a sterile first half but early injuries disrupted the plans and momentum of both teams. In the opening seconds Cédric Soares, the Southampton full-back, slid into the advertising hoardings after a clean challenge by Baines and suffered a head injury that required lengthy treatment. He was eventually replaced by Jack Stephens, the 22-year-old making his first Premier League appearance for the Saints, as Puel's resources were stretched further.
The Southampton manager had made six changes to the team beaten at home by West Bromwich Albion on New Year’s Eve and was also without the suspended Virgil van Dijk. His team’s organisation in defence and on the counterattack remained intact, much to their credit, until an improved second-half display by Everton and a ridiculous fixture list took their toll.
Koeman attempted to freshen his team with the inclusion of Tom Davies and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, the 18-year-old midfielder and 19-year-old striker being rewarded for lively substitute appearances at Hull City on Friday and becoming the first teenager due to start a Premier League fixture this season. Calvert-Lewin made an early impact alongside Romelu Lukaku in the Everton attack, setting up Ross Barkley for a low drive saved by Fraser Forster, but his first start for the club would be brief.
Having twisted his left ankle as he drove into the Southampton area, the £1.5m summer recruit from Sheffield United gamely limped on for six minutes before succumbing to the inevitable and making way for Kevin Mirallas. It was an unfortunate end to a full debut – as sporting handshakes from Southampton players acknowledged – and Everton laboured without his energy up front.
Forster saved with his legs from Lukaku when the hosts broke from a Southampton corner through Ross Barkley and Idrissa Gana Gueye, making his final appearance for Everton before departing for the Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal. But the visitors were more cohesive and composed in the first half, particularly on the break, and should have edged in front through Jay Rodriguez. The forward escaped a booking when he converted Dusan Tadic's cross with a raised arm, tested Joel Robles with an angled drive that deflected off Ashley Williams and created his best chance out of nothing. Collecting Jordy Clasie's ball with his back to goal, Rodriguez spun away from Davies, slipped away from Williams and, with only the Everton goalkeeper to beat but Seamus Coleman flying in, skied his shot high over the bar. A costly miss.
Unsurprisingly, Everton showed more energy than their weary visitors in the second half with Lukaku’s influence improving in tandem with his first touch. Coleman’s raids down the right offered an important outlet against a deep, tiring defence and the two combined to telling effect for the breakthrough. It was Lukaku who released Coleman to the byline and also met the inviting cross that came back from the Republic of Ireland international with a downward header. Forster saved with his foot, the rebound bounced off Lukaku’s thigh and dropped perfectly for Valencia to convert his first club goal for 12 months from close range.
The Ecuador international, who had only been on the pitch for 11 minutes as a replacement for Aaron Lennon, then won the penalty that enabled Baines to make the points safe for Everton when he was up-ended by Maya Yoshida with his back to goal. Southampton had no complaints as Everton's captain for the day sent their goalkeeper the wrong way from the spot.
Everton's final goal was reward for Lukaku's second-half contribution and evidence of Southampton's lethargy. Jose Fonte was easily dispossessed by Baines as he attempted to bring the ball out of defence and Davies pierced their backline with a fine ball into the feet of the Belgium international. Forster had no chance as an unstoppable shot flew high into his net.