Everton’s board of directors were ordered to stay away from Goodison Park due to perceived security risks but what they missed was their relegation-threatened team plunging into further trouble after a 2-1 defeat to bottom side Southampton.
In an unprecedented move the executives did not attend after offensive messages – including death threats to chairman Bill Kenwright – were made to specific individuals during the week by angry fans.
Club officials called it a “profoundly sad day” but things were not much better on the pitch as Everton squandered a lead given to them by Amadou Onana’s first goal for the Toffees.
James Ward-Prowse scored twice as Saints moved level on points with their hosts, who are only kept off the bottom of the table by goal difference after just one win in 11 league matches and have their lowest tally (15) at the halfway stage of a Premier League campaign.
It added extra numbers to the previously-planned sit-in protest after the final whistle by fans angry at the way they perceive those executives have run the club.
By then Southampton’s players, who had enjoyed a morale-boosting midweek Carabao Cup win over Manchester City, had long departed with new manager Nathan Jones celebrating his first league win after four successive defeats.
Those same home supporters had resurrected the team coach welcome, replete with flags and blue smoke, first implemented during last season’s late escape from relegation and the atmosphere was positive before kick-off.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s tame header and Demarai Gray’s shot wide offered some further encouragement but anxiety appeared to be affecting both sides with Ward-Prowse opting to pass inside the area when faced with the option of shooting at Jordan Pickford.
The midfielder was to find himself in space in or around the penalty area a further three times: he hit the post on one occasion in first-half added time before punishing Everton with the equaliser two minutes after the break.
Che Adams’ cushioned header dropped to him 20 yards out and he side-stepped Ben Godfrey to slot past Pickford to cancel out Onana’s maiden goal.
The Belgium international was the host’s best player and he got his rewards after a fairly nondescript opening 39 minutes by beating Gavin Bazunu with a downward header from Gray’s right-wing corner.
Everton have been guilty of not pressing home their advantage on the rare occasions they have had one this season and, moments later, Alex Iwobi cut in from the left and curled a shot wide of the far post. It was no surprise when their bubble was burst early in the second half.
It gave Saints the confidence to exert greater control on the game, with Ward-Prowse at the heart, and under-pressure manager Frank Lampard’s response was to switch from five at the back to 4-3-3 with wing-back Seamus Coleman replaced by forward Anthony Gordon.
Godfrey bundled an Onana cross into the side-netting but Gordon’s reckless and unnecessary foul on Adams 30 yards out, 12 minutes from time, was right in Ward-Prowse’s range and he duly whipped a free-kick over the wall leaving Pickford motionless.
The Gwladys Street chanted “sack the board” at the final whistle after a fourth successive home league defeat, the first time that has happened since a club-record run of seven in 1958.
It was a marked contrast to the celebrations taking place in the away section, who sang: “We’re staying up.”