They are not exactly playing with the swagger of a side who believe a top-four place is their divine right but Everton are doing enough. A moment of brilliance from Richarlison, who has become a predator under Carlo Ancelotti, was enough to keep them well in the running.
You feel that Everton need the stadium to be full as much as any club. It was exactly a year ago today that they played Manchester United in a thumping occasion here and when fans were briefly allowed back, we saw something far better from them.
The three points put right a grim recent home record, though they way they allowed Southampton back in will be a concern to Ancelotti. If they really are to hit the top four, they will have to do better than this.
Richarlison celebrates after scoring in the ninth minute against Southampton on Monday
The striker rounded the goalkeeper after being played in by team-mate Gylfi Sigurdsson
Saint goalkeeper Fraser Forster watches on as Richarlison puts the ball into an empty net
The Brazilian wheels away in celebration after scoring what would prove to be the winning goal
Everton were facing a team with one point from eight games, who had dropped their goalkeeper and are managed by an individual who apparently cannot decide whether his players need to toughen up or not. Ralph Hasenhuttl declared before the game that Southampton needed to be ‘nastier’, yet said in the same breath that having a Machiavellian streak ‘in the end doesn’t make you happy’.
This, then, was the night to resolve the paradox at the heart of Ancelotti’s team — an ability to perform in testing conditions away from home while failing to do so in this stadium when the going looks less tough.
The win at Anfield last week made it 26 points away from home for Everton in the Premier League this season — their most after 12 games in the club’s history. Yet they had won only 14 points at Goodison Park before this game. In only three seasons have they won fewer home games after the equivalent number of matches.
If Everton really are to win their game in hands and push for a top-four place, Ancelotti must prove that he can do more than secure defensive away wins and his censure for his team after the 2-0 defeat against Newcastle here did seem to have some effect.
MATCH FACTS, PLAYER RATINGS AND PREMIER LEAGUE TABLE
Everton (4-3-1-2): Pickford 7; Holgate 6.5, Keane 7, Godfrey 7, Digne 6; Doucoure 6, Allan 5.5, Sigurdsson 7; Gomes 7.5 (Iwobi 88); Calvert-Lewin 6.5, Richarlison 8 (King 90+1).
Subs not used: Virginia, Bernard, Astley, Broadhead, John, Nkounkou, Onyango.
Scorers: Richarlison 9
Manager: Carlo Ancelotti 7
Southampton (4-4-2): Forster 6.5; Bednarek 6, Vestergaard 6, Salisu 5.5 (Tella 63, 6), Bertrand 5.5; Djenepo 5, Armstrong 6.5, Ward-Prowse 6.5, Redmond 7 (Watts 88); Adams 5.5 (N’Lundulu 77), Ings 6
Subs not used: McCarthy, Chauke, Ferry, Jankewitz, Ramsay, Stephens
Booked: Armstrong, Tella
Manager: Ralph Hasenhuttl 6
Referee: Martin Atkinson 6
James Ward-Prowse shows his frustration during another difficult night for this team
Andre Gomes was quickly winning possession and knowing what to do with it, while the attacking combination of Dominic Calvert-Lewin, back after a hamstring problem, and Richarlison was looking a seriously dangerous prospect.
The two took only nine minutes to contribute to an opening goal which revealed a malaise at the heart of a shell-shocked Southampton defence. Calvert-Lewin won an aerial challenge with Mohammed Salisu, Gylfi Sigurdsson threaded the second ball through the Southampton defence and Richarlison took it beyond Fraser Forster and cut it into the net on the acute.
Some finish and some riposte from a player whom Ancelotti had declared before this game was a left-sided forward, whatever designs he might have on be a centre forward after scoring four in four games. ‘Because he is young he plays where I tell him to play,’ the Italian declared.
Jannik Vestergaard (2nd left) sees a late chance to equalise saved by Jordan Pickford
The game would have gone for Southampton had a VAR decision not ruled offside a Michael Keane header from close range after a smartly worked free-kick on 25 monutes. Keane and Mason Holgate were both offside but Everton were clearly looking to exploit a set-piece weakness.
The disallowed goal seemed to shake Southampton from their lethargy. They rallied and became the better side, with Stuart Armstrong beginning to make some inroads for them.
Southampton are vanishing fast, though. Their fall is extraordinary to behold, with the high energy ethos that Hasenhuttl introduced to the side now lost without trace and the 53-year-old struggling to rediscover it again. They have been written off before under his management and re-emerged but as Everton regained the ascendancy in the second half you wondered where the away team go from here. There was no creative plan and little pressure on Everton.
Carlo Ancelotti and assistant Duncan Ferguson celebrate following the full-time whistle
Southampton relied on occasional moments of opportunity. There was good work from Che Adams to win a corner off Ben Godfrey which James Ward-Prowse, whose delivery was excellent, floated in to find Nathan Redmond at the back of the box. He looked to pick out the far corner but curled the ball harmlessly wide.
Everton were solid and held on to their lead, offering Southampton nothing through the middle. Allan was an immovable object at the back of midfield. The game had seven minutes to run when the impressive Armstrong worked a one-two with substitute Nathan Tella and located Moussa Djenepp unmarked at the back post. He drove his shot wide. It was a decisive moment.
Scroll down to see how it all unfolded with Sportsmail’s live runner.