For Ronald Koeman it was the return to Southampton he probably expected but that did not make it any easier. After hearing some less-than-kind chants from a section of the home supporters the Dutchman then had to watch his new side being deservedly beaten by his old one. Stood on a touchline from where his reputation burgeoned, Koeman may well have wondered if he made the right decision swapping the south coast for Merseyside after all.
The goal that decided came early – after just 41 seconds in fact, as Charlie Austin struck from close-range and the truth was Everton never really recovered. As was the case against Swansea last week, their approach play was sluggish and limited but unlike in that fixture they could not muster a late equaliser. Indeed the visitors did not produce a shot on target and it came as no surprise to see a majority of the away supporters heading for the exit long before the final whistle had blown.
In contrast, those who filled the home sections were buoyant until the end. A section made clear their anger at Koeman for leaving the club in the summer in no uncertain terms early on – “We fucking hate you, Ronald Koeman” was one of the chants they directed their way – which but from there the concentration was all but totally directed towards enjoying a Southampton display that brimmed with intent and vigour. Claude Puel’s side recorded their first win since the 16th October with something to spare.
Everton’s starting line-up contained one change, and it was an expected one – Gareth Barry, available again after suspension, replacing James McCarthy in centre-midfield. In contrast, there was a surprise in the Southampton side from that which started the Europa League defeat at Sparta Prague, with 19-year-old Josh Sims handed his senior debut.
The winger, a member of England’s Under-17 European Championship winning-side of two years ago, has been a standout performer for Southampton’s Under-23 team for some team and Puel clearly hoped he could enhance the first-team’s attacking threat given their struggles to find the back of the net so far this season.
And it did not take Sims long to repay his manager’s faith. After Seamus Coleman could only direct Cedric’s cross into the teenager’s path inside the Everton six-yard area, he showed great reactions to quickly scoop the ball towards the nearby Austin who, from an unmarked position, was able to head the ball past Maarten Stekelenburg with ease.
It had been Sims charged-down shot moments earlier that led to the goal and in general the teenager was proving a menace to the visitors’ defence with his direct running and clever link-up play. Early days, but it looks as if Southampton’s much-vaunted academy has unearthed another star.