Catch Everton on a bad day and any record of incompetence can come under threat. Strong stomachs had felt queasy looking at Southampton's away record in the Premiership before this match - but a visit to Goodison changed that.
Five games, no points; bad wine travelled better until Matthew Le Tissier and Kevin Davies found Everton's defence in one of its more benevolent moods yesterday. Their goals moved Southampton out of the relegation places while pushing their opponents perilously close to them. On this evidence, the winter is likely to be kinder on the south coast than it will be on the blue side of Merseyside.
Howard Kendall, the home manager, began with the same team that had overrun Liverpool in their last home match but that was the only resemblance to Everton's best performance of the season. The vibrancy, the determination but, most of all, the imagination were missing so that Southampton won far more comfortably than they should have done.
Carlton Palmer and Matthew Oakley worked prodigiously so that Kevin Richardson, a former Everton player, could sit in front of his back four and pick off any threats from the shirts in blue. There were precious few of those and by the end the old Goodison malady of hit-and-hope crosses towards Duncan Ferguson spread like an epidemic.
Last year Everton won this fixture 7-1. This time they looked clueless. At the final whistle the ground rang to the sound of booing but Goodison knows good football when it sees it and the Saints were applauded warmly as they left the field. No one deserved it more than Davies.
His goal, after 53 minutes, was outstanding. Receiving the ball inside his half on the right wing he swept past an apology of a challenge from John Oster, cut inside Andy Hinchcliffe and left Craig Short and Danny Williamson in his wake before side-footing past Neville Southall.
"That's what the lad is capable of," Dave Jones, his manager, said. "He's a powerful player and if he listens to what Matt Le Tissier, David Hirst and Egil Ostenstad tell him he'll have a future in this division. I'm a greedy fella. I want more from him."
Davies' goal was the crowning moment of a less than inspiring match, but Southampton had taken other trophies before then. After riding initial Everton aggression, the visitors took the lead in the 24th minute with a goal that was criminal given the neglect by the Everton defence.
Palmer won a tackle with Oster and swept a 50-yard ball from the left wing to the right to David Hirst. The former Sheffield Wednesday striker should not have been allowed the time he had to cross the ball but even more culpable was the marking of Craig Short and Dave Watson, who allowed Le Tissier to slip between them to head in at the near post. There were five home players in the penalty box and only one opposition forward. Surely he should have been repulsed more competently?
Southall made an acrobatic finger-tip save to deny Ken Monkou's volley after 41 minutes which stirred Everton at last, Duncan Ferguson heading against the bar just before half-time. Paul Jones also had to make a double block against Williamson and Graham Stuart after 52 minutes but once Davies had pushed Southampton further ahead the home team quickly became bereft of ideas.
"Maybe everyone came here expecting a convincing victory after the 7-1 last season," Kendall said. "In the last three home games we have had standing ovations and the supporters were right to express their disappointment this time. We were second to the ball, we weren't strong enough and we didn't create problems for them."
Everton (4-4-2): Southall; Barrett (Phelan, 66), Watson, Short, Hinchcliffe; Stuart, Williamson, Speed, Oster; Ferguson, Cadamarteri (Branch, 66). Substitutes not used: O'Connor, Ball, O'Toole (gk).
Southampton (4-3-1-2): Jones; Dodd, Monkou, Lundekvam, Benali; Palmer, Richardson, Oakley (Neilson, 83); Tissier (Slater, 74); Davies, Hirst (Basham, 87). Substitutes not used: Charlton, Taylor (gk).
Referee: A Wilkie (Chester-le-Street). Bookings: Everton Watson, Short, Phelan.
Man of the match: Monkou.
Attendance: 29,565.Reuse content