Danny Ings scored his 19th league goal of the season to stay in the hunt for the Golden Boot award.
The life of a mid-table team is like being on a hamster wheel spinning between despair and hope. Everton and Southampton know this better than other Premier League clubs.
They were forlornly looking over their shoulder worrying about those near the bottom for half a seaThere son. They went into this meeting daringly stretching their necks to eye the Europa League places. Everton’s chances of that were greater, but an entertaining draw surely means those aspirations are on hold for another year.
“We lost two points. Now we have more difficulties, but we must keep fighting until the end,” Carlo Ancelotti said. “We have to still believe we have a chance.”
The Italian has swiftly acquainted himself with the Everton loop where shoots of recovery are watered after positive results, only for the prophets of doom to demand a root-and-branch squad clear out after a poor performance.
This has been the Goodison way for a few years, although Ancelotti’s presence alone offers belief Everton will break free from their cycle of inconsistency. The truth is the Italian worked wonders to make European qualification part of the conversation at this point of the season. Frankly, it would have been miraculous if Everton made the Europa League given they were in the bottom three in December.
Even that transformation pales in comparison to Ralph Hasenhuttl’s achievement in leading Southampton to security. No mood swing has been more extreme this season than at St Mary’s. Southampton were in the bottom three after 10 games, having suffered a humiliating 9-0 home defeat by Leicester, which would have had most chairman head-hunting a new coach before injury time. So it was entirely in keeping with these clubs’ predicament that there was as much to frustrate as admire as they shared the points. For 42 minutes, Ancelotti must have been relieved there was no crowd. Everton could not string a pass together, Southampton were dominant, unlucky to be only a goal up.
Danny Ings, who struck his 19th of the season on 31 minutes, had already seen Jordan Pickford shove his header against the crossbar. James Ward-Prowse hit the woodwork with an overzealous penalty
kick. Eventually, a scuffed shot by Stuart Armstrong dropped to Ings, who steered the ball into the net while Everton defenders wrongly presumed Var would save them with a retrospective offside.
Ancelotti had already decided to make a formation change when Richarlison equalised from nowhere, controlling Lucas Digne’s long diagonal and slamming past Alex McCarthy after 43 minutes.
That may have sparked a secondhalf improvement irrespective of Ancelotti ditching his favoured 4-4-2 to send on an extra defender. Either way, Everton looked more balanced. Suddenly it was Hasenhuttl making the tactical tweaks.
Ancelotti knew Everton could afford no more mistakes to realise the European ambition within six months of his arrival. Privately, he might admit they are not ready. It might not be the gravest setback if they narrowly miss out, the demands of the Europa League can be debilitating with a thin squad.
Southampton appear to have as strong a foundation to mount a topseven challenge next season. Given where they were, that makes Hasenhuttl one of the coaches of the season. “There is a bit of frustration because we played a good game,” he said. “The whole performance was good. We were dominant. But we know where we are coming [from]. The last time we played Everton we were in position 19. The development as a team and club is amazing.”
Poacher: Danny Ings (third from left) gives Southampton the lead at Goodison Park with his 19th goal of the season
Costly: Carlo Ancelotti admitted the result was two points dropped for Everton