Two own goals dent Everton's Champions League hopes
(Antolin Alcaraz 1-og, Seamus Coleman 31-og)
Everton went to St Mary's Stadium yesterday expecting a tough assignment.
What they didn't expect, though, were two moments of madness that possibly dealt a fatal blow to their Champions League qualification chances.
Two first-half own goals - one by Antolin Alcaraz in the the opening minute and the other by Seamus Coleman just after the half-hour mark - left them with too tall a mountain to climb.
The 2-0 defeat by Southampton leaves them needing a miracle to join Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City in Europe's elite club competition next season.
Arsenal will rub their hands with glee. The Gunners can go four points clear of the Toffees if they beat Newcastle on Tuesday morning (Singapore time).
Knocked out of the top-four positions not too long ago, the Gunners now need six points from their remaining three games to be certain of a Champions League spot.
Everton manager Roberto Martinez will rue the inexplicable mistakes that were so uncharacteristic of his side this season.
That the first came so early in the game was a massive setback for the away side.
Alcaraz, deployed in the centre of defence because of injuries to Sylvain Distin and Phil Jagielka, could only hide his face in the turf after his worst nightmare came true.
And some would say that he took an unnecessary risk, diving in to head Rickie Lambert's cross into his own net before the fans had barely warmed their seats.
Any realistic hopes of a comeback against a very accomplished Southampton team was dashed before half-time.
Ironically, the error came from one of their best players of the season, Coleman.
Nathaniel Clyne's cross should have been dealt with easily by the Republic of Ireland international but, despite being under no pressure, he nodded the ball past a stunned Tim Howard.
Everton battled hard to try to cut the deficit, but the one goal that would put them right back into the match never came.
They would probably have felt aggrieved that they had two penalty appeals turned down during the match.
But Southampton were no lucky winners. They deserved the three points for putting up another sleek, attacking display at home.
They showed why the Premiership powerhouses are circling above them like vultures, waiting to pounce on their best players.
The likes of Luke Shaw and Adam Lallana now rank among the most highly prized young English footballers.
The Saints face a huge challenge to convince them to stay beyond this term.
For Martinez, this game serves as a reminder of the very fine margins that exist in the upper reaches of the English Premier League.
He will instruct his team to keep plugging away in their remaining matches even if it is a sliver of hope that they are hanging on to.
It's advantage Arsenal in the race for fourth.
Today was a real setback... but we’ll be ready for next Saturday.
— Everton boss Roberto Martinez
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