Gaston Ramirez ’s first Saints goal was not enough to save his side from defeat as they leaked three goals in 13 first half minutes to lose 3-1 at Everton.
Saints started the game brightly and sniffed an away day victory as Ramirez was left unmarked from a corner to head home from close range to give them the lead after just six minutes.
But Everton responded and in a rampant spell bagged goals through Leon Osman and a Nikica Jelavic double to bag the three points at Goodison Park.
Everton proved their threat early on as Leighton Baines whipped in a cross that Maya Yoshida was able to win in the air only for the ball to fall to Kevin Mirallas just inside the area, but he lashed a shot over the bar.
However, it was Saints who took the lead after six minutes through the simplest of routes.
Adam Lallana whipped in an inswinging corner, Gaston Ramirez lost his marker, Tim Howard got lost under the ball and the Uruguayan had the simple job of heading home in acres of space just a few yards out at the far post.
Everton claimed it should never have been a corner in the first place and the ball had in fact been put out by Rickie Lambert .
Saints allowed John Heitinga a free header from a corner four minutes later but the Everton centre half was backing away from the ball and his weak header was easily fielded by Paulo Gazzainga.
Jay Rodriguez had a great chance to double Saints’ lead on 12 minutes as he outpaced Heitinga to get in behind via a long ball up field. He superbly nodded the ball into his path to give himself the chance to finish low across Howard from inside the area but scuffed his effort wide of the far post.
As the game wore on both sides posed a real threat with Everton piling consistent pressure on Saints, who in turn looked razor sharp on the break.
But it was the Toffees who claimed the next goal to equalise on 25 minutes.
Some patient passing build-up ended with Kevin Mirallas crossing from the right, the ball deflecting back off of the sliding Nikica Jelavic and sitting up nicely for Leon Osman who side footed home into the top corner for 1-1.
And it got worse for Saints as Everton took the lead eight minutes later. Mirallas played the ball through into the path of Jelavic with the Saints defence dissected.
The striker’s first touch took him a little wide but he finished low across Gazzniga, who looked somewhat out of position in trying to cover his near post.
The Saints keeper certainly wasn’t out of position on 37 minutes as he turned away a Jelavic top corner bound header.
However, he was beaten again just a minute later.
Seamus Coleman burst through down the right, leaving two Saints players trailing in his wake, and whipped in a deep cross.
Jelavic was there to meet the ball and though Gazzaniga dived towards his near post to get both hands on the Everton man’s far post header he couldn’t stop it going in.
Everton were tearing Saints apart at will and Marouane Fellaini was the next to get a header on target, but it was straight at Gazzaniga.
In first half stoppage time Fellaini was left unmarked from a corner and slammed his header against the crossbar.
The whistle went shortly afterwards and a shell shocked Saints trudged off to try and regroup.
They had started so well but were then totally ripped to shreds and could only be grateful to be just two goals down at the break.
There was a noticeable change from both sides at the start of the second half.
Saints were trying to secure the flanks that had been so leaky in the first period, while Everton were dropping deeper and allowing Saints possession, perhaps feeling they had almost done enough to win the game already.
Everton still posed a very real threat though and Fellaini’s deflected shot went just narrowly wide.
Moments later Osman’s steered shot from outside the area went agonisingly close to creeping into the far corner.
Fellaini was on target on 61 minutes from inside the area but this time it was straight at Gazzaniga.
Saints did start to get a bit more of the game but were struggling to deliver a final ball to create a genuine chance.
It wasn’t the same problem for Everton and Mirallas was the next to prove that with a shot from outside the area that Gazzaniga dived low to his right to turn wide.
Ramirez took aim from fully 25 yards at the other end but only picked out Howard in the centre of the Everton goal.
He probably should have pulled one back on 69 minutes as Lambert put him in behind but Ramirez lifted the ball across Howard and wide of the far post.
Everton made their first change on 75 minutes with Victor Anichebe replacing Jelavic up front.
They followed it up four minutes later with Bryan Oviedo coming on for Mirallas.
Saints made a double switch of their own with ten minutes remaining with Emmanuel Mayuka and Ben Reeves replacing Rodriguez and Clyne.
The second half had been something on a non event with Everton showing little attacking intent.
But Saints knew if they could just fashion a chance and bag themselves a goal then they might yet be able to rescue something from the match.
Ramirez tried to conjure something up with a shot from just outside the area but fired over the bar.
Lambert was the next to have a go with a header from Steven Davis ’ right wing cross but Howard beat it away.
Both sides made their final changes in the dying moments as Richard Chaplow replaced Adam Lallana for Saints and Sylvain Distin came on for Osman for Everton.
However, it was too late for them to make any impact as the game finished 3-1 thanks to Everton’s rampant first half spell.
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