Ronald Koeman’s return to Southampton could hardly have gone any worse. Met with the kind of reception expected from home supporters slighted at the decision of their former manager to jump ship last summer, the Dutchman was forced to endure the sight of his current side fall behind to Charlie Austin’s goal after just 41 seconds and then fail dismally to correct a run that has now brought just one win in eight Premier League games.
Austin’s ninth goal of the season ensured Southampton quickly recovered from Thursday’s Europa League defeat to Sparta Prague although their failure to add to that early goal was a justifiable source of frustration for Claude Puel, the manager.
Nontheless, victory over a former manager, and one illuminated by the performance of Josh Sims, a 19-year-old winger making his debut, ensured this was a satisfactory outcome for the south coast club.
Koeman’s record as Southampton’s most successful manager in the Premier League era – the Dutchman secured seventh and sixth place during his two seasons at St Mary’s, the club’s best ever Premier League finishes – was never likely to protect him from a hostile reception.
The manager insisted he was prepared for whatever might come his way, but the last thing he needed was for his own players to contribute to the atmosphere by conceding inside the opening minute. And it only added to the home side’s satisfaction that Austin’s goal was set up by a remarkable moment of composure by Sims.
With Everton failing to clear Cedric’s right wing cross. Sims kept his nerve to lift the ball calmly into the path of Austin who headed over the line from just two yards out. For Saints, it was the perfect response after the disappointment of the midweek Europa League defeat at Sparta Prague while for Koeman, the goal merely confirmed this would be a difficult afternoon.
It could have got much worse for the Dutchman had Sims not wasted the chance to add a second when he headed into the arms of Everton keeper Maarten Stekelenberg when unmarked just ten yards out. A goal then would have confirmed Southampton’s dominance but having survived that and a number of other scares, Koeman’s side finally began to get a foothold in the game and should have levelled in the 25th minute when Seamus Coleman set up Idrissa Gueye who shot wastefully over the bar.
Everton looked as though they had yet to get the previous weekend’s sluggish performance out of their system, although Gareth Barry had an excellent opportunity to head them level ten minutes before the break. The visitors’ performance, though, was distinctly below par and prompted boos from the visiting supporters at half-time.
Koeman’s efforts to inject more urgency into his side at half-time appeared to have had little effect with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg striking the woodwork following an early corner before Austin was denied his second goal when Stekelenberg’s excellent one-handed save diverted the forward’s header to safety.
Stekelenberg’s efforts kept Everton in the game but their failure to threaten Fraser Forster’s goal meant Southampton’s narrow lead remained intact.
Southampton (4-3-3): Forster; Soares, Fonte, Van Dijk, Bertrand; Hojbjerg, Romeu, Ward-Prowse; Sims (McQueen 84), Austin (Long 89), Redmond (Clasie 79).
Subs: Taylor, Yoshida, Rodriguez, Reed.
Everton (4-2-3-1): Stekelenberg; Coleman, Jagielka, Williams, Baines (Valencia 83); Gueye, Barry; Lennon (Deulofeu 65), Barkley (Mirallas 70), Bolasie; Lukaku.
Subs: Robles, Cleverley, Funes Mori, Holgate.
Referee: C Pawson