29/12/2013: Everton 2-1 Saints

Saints were slightly unfortunate to come away from Goodison Park without a point in what was a close contest. Neither side were quite as expansive or free-flowing as they are capable of being, but it was a reasonably entertaining clash nonetheless.

Saints were pretty cautious early on, looking for the easy pass or trying a few speculative long balls over the top to Jay Rodriguez. The visitors were forced into a more positive approach after only 9 minutes when Seamus Coleman scored for Everton. The Irishman cut inside past James Ward-Prowse before driving into the box and blasting into the roof of the net.

Both sides did well to cancel each other out for much of the game. Everton pressed really well, closing down space. Saints spent plenty of time in the hosts half, but rarely tested keeper Joel Robles. On 14 minutes Steven Davis and Rickie Lambert were involved in a neat one-two, only for Davis to be intercepted in the box. Jack Cork played a dangerous ball into Rodriguez moments later, but once again Everton were alert to the danger. On 25 minutes Lallana and Chambers brilliantly combined on the right, before playing in Lambert, who was flagged offside. Everton looked capable on the break, but the Saints back four stood up well to the threat.

Lallana squandered a great opportunity on 40 minutes. The playmaker spun on the edge of the box, before shooting wide on the turn. Lambert fired into the ground and straight at Robles in first half stoppage time. Lallana and former Portsmouth defender Sylvain Distin squared up following a scuffle, but Mark Clattenburg let both men off with a warning.

Saints signalled their intention right at the start of the 2nd half when Luke Shaw played a dangerous ball across the box. Everton could have given themselves some breathing space on 55 minutes, when Bryan Oviedo crossed for Ross Barkley, who somehow contrived to miss a relatively simple chance. Seconds later Saints were unable to finish off an attacking move of their own.

On 65 minutes Mauricio Pochettino made a substitution which would completely alter the direction of the contest. Gaston Ramirez replaced Cork. The Uruguayan made an immediate impact, with Saints suddenly looking very dangerous going forward. Rodriguez had a shot deflected wide on 68, but Saints wouldn't have to wait too much longer. On 71 Ramirez picked the ball up in the middle of the pitch approximately 35 yards out. He made space for himself, turning an opponent before firing a screamer past Robles.

Saints fans thought the tide was turning in their favour at that point, but Everton responded really well, and were back ahead within a couple of minutes. Steven Pienaar started the move with a neat through-ball for Barkley. He squared it for Romelu Lukaku, who completed a powerful finish into the corner of the net. Saints had plenty of urgency during an open last 10 minutes, but it was still Everton who looked the more likely in front of goal. Lukaku fired over on 80 following a great individual run. The same player tested Kelvin Davis once more on 89 minutes. Moments earlier Saints had a very strong penalty appeal turned down. Antolin Alcaraz clearly handled Lallana's cross. Clattenburg saw it, but decided it was not deliberate.

A disappointing result in the end, but not a disgraceful performance by any means. Saints were lacking something in the final third for the first hour, and missed the influential Morgan Schneiderlin, but also limited Everton to just a handful of clear-cut chances. Pochettino's men were involved in some decent passages of play, and matched up pretty well against a very strong opponent. Ramirez's impact cannot be understated. His clever flicks and deft movement played havoc with the Everton defence. Given the freedom to roam around the pitch and drift in between the lines, Ramirez was nearly impossible to handle. It's been a long time coming, but if that's what he's capable of then he's surely worth sticking with for a while longer. He deserves a decent run in the team at least.

Attendance: 39,092

Match Ratings

Davis: 6. Made one half-decent save from Lukaku, but otherwise didn't have a lot to do

Chambers: 7. Didn't let a lot get past him. Made a few skillful runs down the flank

Fonte: 6. A reasonable showing

Lovren: 6. Not really at his best defensively. Distribution a bit off at times too

Shaw: 6. Penetrating strides down the left helped open up space, but perhaps could have been better positioned for the Everton goals

Cork: 7. Passed it about well

Davis: 7. Another solid away display

Ward-Prowse: 5. Looked out of sorts for much of the first half. Looked eager after the break, but still got muscled off the ball a few times

Lallana: 6. Made some decent runs, but end product not quite to the level it has been recently

Rodriguez: 5. Not really involved in the game as much as he would have liked

Lambert: 6. Some good passing and link-up play early on, but struggled to keep it up for the full 90

Substitutes

Ramirez: 8. Completely altered the game. Didn't put a foot wrong. Injected some much needed creativity and scored a corker

Gallagher: Made his presence felt in the box, adding an additional aerial threat

Clyne: Didn't really have enough time to get involved