IF ANY Southampton fans brought along their white handkerchiefs to St Mary’s last night, they remained firmly tucked away in their pockets as the Saints went toe-to-toe with Everton in Mauricio Pochettino’s first game in charge.
A planned protest against the acrimonious sacking of Nigel Adkins with the waving of handkerchiefs, a tradition amongst restless Spanish fans, failed to materialise as Southampton outplayed the Toffees for much of their Barclays Premier League encounter, with only their finishing letting them down.
In a further insult to Adkins, he wasn’t even given a mention in the match programme.
The hosts started well under their new Argentine boss, who was greeted with a warm reception by the home fans, and created all of the early chances.
Gaston Ramirez and Rickie Lambert, both recalled by Pochettino, combined after four minutes with Everton defender Phil Jagielka almost turning in Lambert’s cross for an own goal.
Jason Puncheon was next to come close for the Saints when his low shot was deflected wide of the post, before Ramirez forced a smart save out of Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard with 13 minutes on the clock.
Lambert then came close to breaking the deadlock when he saw his 25-yard free-kick rattle Howard’s right-hand post.
It was the Southampton skipper who again caused havoc for the Everton defence as a clever touch took him inside Leighton Baines before Howard was forced to push his effort back into the middle of the area.
The chances started to add up for Pochettino’s side as club-record signing Ramirez again tested Howard, who was equal to the Uruguay international’s effort.
The Everton goal was living a charmed life as the resulting corner saw Lambert’s header hacked off the line by a combination of Nikica Jelavic and Baines, with Jos Hooiveld’s follow-up shot saved by Howard.
Lambert was guilty of missing a fantastic chance from 12 yards as half-time edged closer with Southampton truly dominating an out-of-sorts Toffees side.
Pochettino’s first half-time team-talk would have been a simple one, even with the use of an interpreter, with his players only needing to translate their dominance and chances into the opening goal. But it was Everton who almost grabbed it, with Marouane Fellaini twice denied by Artur Boruc in quick succession.
The Belgian controlled a cross before firing at the former Celtic goalkeeper, who then held Fellaini’s header from the resulting corner. Jelavic then fluffed his lines as sub Victor Anichebe cut the ball back to the Croatian, who could not make meaningful contact when in front of Boruc.
Moyes’ side had scored in their previous nine away games but it was Southampton who ended the match on top, although they could not find a way through Everton’s resolute defensive line.
Pochettino, speaking through an interpreter, said: “I want to thank the players for the three days working with them, they have done very well.
“I want to thank the supporters for the very kind reception they have given me, it was amazing. Tonight we have done very well and created at least seven good chances to score.”
Southampton: Boruc, Clyne, Yoshida, Hooiveld, Shaw, Puncheon (De Ridder 87), Cork, Schneiderlin, Ramirez (S Davis 71), Lambert, Do Prado (Rodriguez 62). Subs not used: K Davis, Fox, Richardson, Chaplow.
Everton: Howard, Coleman (Anichebe 58), Jagielka, Distin, Baines, Naismith, Neville, Osman, Pienaar, Jelavic (Mirallas 66), Fellaini. Subs not used: Mucha, Heitinga, Oviedo, Hitzlsperger, Duffy.