Flashes of quality sneak Everton past Southampton

Posted by Luke O'Farrell

Of the signs of progress under Roberto Martinez -- and there have been many -- Sunday's 2-1 victory over Southampton was perhaps the clearest yet. Without a number of key players through injury and suspension, and with two other regular starters rested, a much-changed Everton persevered and earned a crucial three points.

The home side had to make to do without the suspended duo of Tim Howard and Gareth Barry, the injured quartet of Gerard Deulofeu, Darron Gibson, Arouna Kone and Phil Jagielka, while Martinez also rested the first-choice pair of Kevin Mirallas and Steven Pienaar.

There was a distinctly disjointed feel to the football at times, but those chosen (just about) navigated the personnel changes and the reward was two goals of the highest quality from man-of-the-moment Seamus Coleman and a much-needed strike for Romelu Lukaku.

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Both sides began brightly, with possession football the name of the game, although the visitors probably settled the quicker until Coleman intervened. The right back continues to cement his position as the best in the league.

The marauding run preceding his eighth-minute opener has become his trademark and left various Southampton players chasing shadows, while the finish that followed improved upon the missile dispatched past Swansea last week.

In marked contrast to his fellow goalscorer, however, Lukaku has faltered of late, but his match-winning strike at the end of a flowing move demonstrated the wonders a goal can do for a striker's confidence.

Before the goal, Lukaku gave a passable impression of man with concrete boots. Yet he was a player reborn afterwards -- the burly Belgian twice came close to adding to his tally. One jinking run, in particular, was a thing of beauty and embarrassed one or two of those in red.

With goalscorers Lukaku (loan) and Coleman (60,000 pounds) highlighting the value of astute transfer business, it was another player acquired on the cheap who stood out in this hard-fought encounter.

Shorn of the defensive qualities of hamstrung captain Jagielka, Everton called on Antolin Alcaraz, and the summer signing did not disappoint. Sidelined by countless injuries since joining on a free transfer, this was Alcaraz's first competitive action in five months.

Fortunately, despite the lack of match practice, Alcaraz slotted seamlessly into the heart of the defence, demonstrating a sound reading of the game and an calmness on the ball that is missing in several of his defensive colleagues.

Nevertheless, although Alcaraz ensured life without Jagielka was not the grim prospect it might have been, the absence of others told as the match wore on. Barry and Howard are surely shoe-ins for Wednesday's trip to Stoke.

Goalkeeper Joel Robles was one of the unfortunate understudies unable to stake a claim -- the equalising goal highlighted the gulf between Howard and his competition. The ball moved in the air initially, but the well-struck effort beat Robles with alarming ease.

The void left by Barry also became painfully apparent, eventually, as the away side began to dictate play in the midfield of the park, especially during the second half. His replacement, Leon Osman, has served the club well, but his influence is undergoing a sustained decline. The Boxing Day error against Sunderland clearly played on his mind in a nervous, subdued showing.

Still, there was one positive to emerge from the absence of Barry, and that was the display of James McCarthy. Showing maturity beyond his years, the 23-year old has flourished since following Martinez from Wigan. Furthermore, his vision and awareness for the second goal highlighted rarely seen creative ability.

Elsewhere, the comeback of Leighton Baines boosted the team, even if his stand-in Bryan Oviedo struggled ahead of him on the left of midfield -- both Everton and Baines improved when Pienaar entered and the duo combined expertly in the build-up to the winning goal.

Many feared the worst when news of all the missing players filtered through -- I know I did -- but the will to win evident against an impressive Southampton side was further testament to the positive feel around the club. Regardless of who plays, the manager and those he sends onto the pitch believe they can win.


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