Two own goals dealt Everton's chances of a top-four finish in the Barclays Premier League a severe blow as they slipped to a 2-0 defeat at Southampton.
The Merseysiders came into the match at St Mary's Stadium looking for a win to take them above Arsenal and into fourth place, with Arsene Wenger's side not playing until Monday. However, a nightmare start put them behind inside a minute as Antolin Alcaraz's error put the hosts ahead. Having benefited from three own goals themselves in recent weeks, the visitors were their own worst enemies on this occasion and their task became tougher after the half-hour mark as Seamus Coleman also headed into his net.
Southampton are six points clear of Newcastle United, Arsenal's next opponents, and remain on course to equal their highest Barclays Premier League finish of eighth. Everton remain a point behind Arsenal and Roberto Martinez may have to wait another year to achieve his aim of taking the club into the UEFA Champions League.
Martinez's side could hardly have got off to a worse start. After conceding possession from kick-off the ball eventually went to Rickie Lambert, whose in-swinging cross from the left was headed past Tim Howard by a flying Alcaraz. Everton almost conceded again 20 minutes in as Steven Davis turned wide from 12 yards after another swift break down their right and a delightful pass by Lambert.
Coleman's attacking instincts were giving Southampton space, but a rare foray down the opposite side of the pitch led to the hosts' second. Nathaniel Clyne zipped up the wing and clipped in a deep cross that eluded John Stones, giving Coleman no time to readjust, the ball bouncing off his forehead and into the net.
Romelu Lukaku headed over from four yards as Everton sought a way back into the contest, and Martinez introduced Leon Osman and Aiden McGeady in an attempt to spark life into his attack. However, Lambert came close to a Southampton third as his 59th-minute free-kick nicked the outside of Howard's left post.
McGeady's trickery on the left presented Lukaku with another glorious chance to score, but he planted a header straight at Artur Boruc. After that chance Everton's challenge largely fizzled out as Southampton dominated the ball and consigned the Merseyside club to their fifth successive winless trip to St Mary's.
Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino: “To beat a team such as Everton – a team that is playing so well – you have to have an amazing overall performance, and that is what we had here today.
“I’m pleased in the way that we played today and how we performed against a team that has won seven out of eight and is trying to break into the top four and break into the Champions League. We played very well against them and the overall team performance was very good so I am very pleased with that.
“I am very happy for the players because they had a great game, but also for the medical staff for all the work they do behind doors that goes unseen. The amazing work they do made this possible today. “
Everton manager Robert Martinez: "From our point of view, [the defeat] doesn't change at all. We have had eight wins in 10 games – it's a phenomenal return.
"We go into the next two games and hope to get maximum points; all we're looking for is to get the maximum points and we'll see where that leaves us. Today was a real setback but we'll learn from this, we're a very young group."
"I think we got a bit frustrated. We were not our normal selves. [In] the back five, you need that consistency and with the changes it took us 20-25 minutes to get into the game. After that, we came a bit stronger in the second half, but not having that confident look we usually do.
"Today, everything that could have gone wrong defensively did and that made things difficult.
|03 May 2014||v Swansea (A)|
|11 May 2014||v Man Utd (H)|
|24 Nov 2014||v Aston Villa (A)|
|30 Nov 2014||v Southampton (H)|
|03 Dec 2014||v Arsenal (A)|
|08 Dec 2014||v Southampton (H)|