Tomorrow Everton travel to the South Coast to take on Southampton in their second League game of the season. After a 2-2 draw with Watford on the opening day the Blues will be looking to get their first victory of the new campaign when they take on Ronald Koeman’s Saints at lunch-time tomorrow in a televised fixture, live on BT Sport. Everton have failed to score on their last three visits to St Mary’s – losing comprehensively twice and drawing 0-0 – and we know it will be another tough test against an impressive Southampton side who have played with an eye-catching enthusiasm since returning to the Premier League.
Against Watford we witnessed a frustrating 45 minutes of no creation, lack of shape, width or composure, and even though we improved in the second half the game had echoes of the Everton from last season – on the face of it not a lot had changed. The pattern was quite predictable; Everton struggled to contain a visiting side who took advantage of our defensive frailty, taking the lead twice and leaving it to the home side to chase the game. From the back Tim Howard never filled us with any confidence, nor did others like Gareth Barry, but with no imminent arrivals in those particular positions it appears that once again we will see them more frequently than we would like to this term. The frustrations from our supporters spilled onto the pitch from the off and with Everton lacking a player who can get hold of the game by the scruff of the neck we saw plenty of familiar shades of last season in the early exchanges but thankfully we got ourselves a point from the game following two good levelling goals from Barkley and Kone in the second half.
For all of the opening day disappointments against Watford, I do believe that both goal scorers will take huge confidence from how they took their goals. Barkley thrives on confidence and he had any hope of that sucked away last season – with a number of Evertonians hardly helping matters – but he will hopefully see his second-half rocket versus Watford as a platform to build on and kick on for the rest of the current campaign. I must have faith that he will do this because I’ve even thrown him in my fantasy team – I just get the feeling that Ross can be the man for us this season. As for our other goal scorer last Saturday – the much maligned Arouna Kone – he couldn’t have hoped for a better start to the current season by getting off the mark and taking his goal well. If he comes off the bench or gets the odd start and continues to grab goals, then those boos that greeted his arrival from the bench will soon begin to quieten down. I am not holding my breath that we will see any sort of consistency from Kone because he has never got going since coming to the Club but with an opening day strike under his belt, he, like Barkley, should see this as a real opportunity to make an impression. It has to be now or never for Kone at Goodison Park.
To tomorrow and ahead of the game we’ve been dealt a blow with Baines going under the knife and being ruled out for 12-14 weeks, such disappointing news and worrying as he had just come back from surgery on the same area. However there is some positive news on the injury front with Gerard Deulofeu back in contention, Kevin Mirallas expected to be fine for tomorrow and both Mo Besic and Aiden McGeady returning to training following hamstring injuries. One of Bryan Oviedo or Brendan Galloway will fill in for Baines at left back and I can’t see Martinez making any major changes to the side that drew last time out. Ideally Deulofeu would start but I can only see the Spaniard used from the bench, plus Kone probably won’t start and he again may be called upon from the bench too if necessary. If Mirallas is fit he has to play, otherwise we attack any creative force, and I’d fully expect the rest of the starting XI against Watford to keep their places with Stones, Jagielka, Coleman, Barry, McCarthy, Cleverley, Barkley and Lukaku all involved from the off tomorrow.
Southampton have become one of the League’s toughest opponents and Everton have struggled against them away from home in recent years. Last season the Blues were easily brushed aside 3-0 by Saints at the beginning of what was a horrific run of form for Martinez’ men and the woeful defeat on the South Coast probably was a real eye opener as to where we were heading last season. We were lifeless and Martinez’ refusal to make much-needed substitutions on that day saw him and his side come in for huge criticism. Obviously we will all be hoping for a much-improved display when we travel to St Mary’s tomorrow but there is no denying it is a tough place for any side to visit. Koeman has bought well after losing a number of stars over the course of the last two summers and he has continued his recruitment this week with the addition of Oriel Romeu from Chelsea to bolster his midfield. With Graziano Pelle a handful in attack, Sadio Mane and Dusan Tadic impressive in Saint’s creative department, Everton to be on their guard against a side who won’t sit back and will look to make it three wins on the spin against the Toffees on home soil.
Evertonians are currently in need of a boost – with a distinct lack of major signings, players picking up injuries, off-field issues becoming increasingly scrutinised and the John Stones saga rumbling on – a win tomorrow would allow for Blues fans to focus on a positive for once and would set us up nicely going into a home tie with City next Sunday. Goodison Park has been horrible for some time now, the atmosphere has largely been poisonous for a while, so I’d like to think our players will see this as an opportunity to go away from home, enjoy their football without the added pressure of 30,000+ growling Evertonians wincing at every pass made and get themselves a morale-boosting victory for all concerned. Saints offer Everton very competitive opposition, but every side in the League is beatable, if Everton are on their game then there is no reason why we can’t come away with maximum points and give ourselves something to smile about for change. I know I’m not alone when I say this but I’d take a snide, scrappy 1-0 victory now just so we are off the mark in the new Premier League season.
Up the Toffees.