Everton slumped deeper into crisis as Goodison Park, the club's most potent weapon in the dying embers of last season, witnessed its fourth consecutive Blues defeat.
The home side was outdone by a side at the bottom of the table yet again as so many themes of a wretched season were evident once more. A lack of quality, a poor start to a second half, the failure to hold onto a lead and the inability of Frank Lampard to turn to game changers on his bench all played a role in a miserable loss that underscored the severity of the threat to Everton's Premier League safety.
It was a result that will heap yet more pressure on Lampard too, despite the public backing he received this week from majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri. Just one win in 11 league games tells a story that makes for worrying reading for anyone associated with Everton.
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This club faces a fight for its top flight status for the second year in a row and the very real prospect that the final full season at Goodison Park will be in the second tier. Scrutiny will remain on Lampard, but so will some sympathy that, 14 days into a transfer window the club had months to prepare for, he could only look to two academy graduates for support from the bench - albeit one of those being Anthony Gordon. Southampton, on the other hand, brought on Carlos Alcarez for his league debut and had another January signing, Mislav Orsic, to turn to if they needed him. In the end, they did not.
On a day of so many headlines, with the board of directors absent due to safety concerns and a protest against the running of the club attracting the attention of several thousand supporters after the final whistle, it was James Ward-Prowse who proved the difference on the pitch. It was his stunning free-kick with 12 minutes to go that sealed Everton's fate. It was a moment of brilliance in a game of little magic but huge importance.
While Jordan Pickford could do little to stop the winner, the goal itself felt predictable from the moment Gordon bundled over Che Adams as Everton scrambled to deal with a counter attack. Ward-Prowse had given Southampton an equaliser just seconds into the second half as Everton were once again undone in the early stages of a restart. Against Manchester United they conceded in the 52nd minute. In the game before that, against Brighton and Hove Albion, it was the 51st. This time it was the 46th minute when Ward-Prowse took a cushioned header from Adams into his stride and slotted beyond Pickford.
Between those goals Everton had their moments. They burst into life at various times during a frenetic half of football and came closest when Dominic Calvert-Lewin's deflected shot hit the underside of the bar but bounced out. Ben Godfrey almost scored minutes later but appeared surprised when a curling cross reached him at the back post, the ball simply hitting him and bouncing wide.
For so long this was a battle of the number eights, with Amadou Onana the only player in Blue to rival the ingenuity of his opposite number, Ward-Prowse. It was his header from a Demarai Gray corner that gave Everton a vital lead just before half-time. Twice he was felled while launching counter attacks - his opponents booked on both occasions such was the potential of the position he was creating. It was Onana who knitted together his side's best move before the goal, which saw Gray lift the ball over the bar from an angle after being fed by Vitalii Mykolenko. He deserved the applause he received when he left the pitch but he was unable to overcome Ward-Prowse, who had also forced Pickford into an important save at the end of the first half.
That effort was a clear warning to a side that has repeatedly struggled to manage the leads it has held this season. But despite 15 minutes to think about how to thwart the Southampton midfielder he brought his side back into this game with his next touches before going on to find the winner.
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