SINGAPORE- As 2013 ends, it is safe to say no one else had a year quite like Roberto Martinez, the man who won the FA Cup, got relegated and proved it was possible to replace a seemingly irreplaceable manager.
It was fitting, then, that the Spaniard signed off until 2014 with a win. He has elevated his reputation over the past 12 months. So have Seamus Coleman, scorer of a superlative strike, and Romelu Lukaku, who provided the winner to decide the battle of the over-achievers. Everton have a realistic prospect of playing in the Champions League in the autumn; Southampton, who are fading after their wonderful start to the season, look likelier to end up nearer the middle of the Premier League.
Everton have been rebranded in recent months but their challenge is built on sound foundations. Much as Martinez has added style, they can win without playing particularly well, as they did yesterday, and they have turned Goodison Park into a fortress. They completed 2013 with a solitary league defeat on their own turf, the Boxing Day blip against Sunderland, and normal service resumed, albeit with different personnel.
The fixture list had taken its toll on Everton. Gareth Barry and Tim Howard were banned, Phil Jagielka and Gerard Deulofeu injured, Kevin Mirallas and Steven Pienaar rested, only to be required in the second half.
Continuity has been a huge asset to Everton this season but a rare much-changed team prevailed.
It was partly thanks to one of the constants. Right-back Coleman is scoring like a striker; this was his third goal in four games – and he is the most prolific defender in the Premier League. Danger was hardly advertised when the Irishman collected the ball a few metres into the Southampton half. A few seconds later, however, he had accelerated, turned inside James Ward-Prowse, capitalised on Luke Shaw’s reluctance to challenge and rifled an unstoppable shot past Kelvin Davis.
Thereafter, Southampton were the more composed side, without carving out too many clear-cut chances. Adam Lallana drilled a shot just wide after juggling his way past Sylvain Distin and Leon Osman but a better opportunity came at the other end when Ross Barkley somehow sidefooted wide after Bryan Oviedo found him.
When Southampton levelled, it was through their forgotten man. The former club record signing Gaston Ramirez is yet to start a league game this season but, six minutes after his introduction, he sent a superb, swerving shot flying past Joel Robles. Howard’s deputy ought to have done better but ultimately it mattered not for Everton.
Galvanised by the concession, they surged forward. James McCarthy picked out Lukaku, who swept his shot into the net to end his mini-drought and give Everton a happy ending to the year.
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