Barring an extraordinary sequence of results Everton will be knocked off the Premier League’s top spot before visiting Newcastle United next week.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side lost their unbeaten record at Southampton on Sunday.
They lost Lucas Digne, too, for the final 18 minutes here, and for the next three matches. The Frenchman was sent off for a challenge on Kyle Walker-Peters as he chased after the Southampton right-back.
Digne pleaded the contact was accidental, occurring naturally in his stride.
Everton came close to leading at St Mary's Stadium when Gylfi Sigurdsson struck the bar from 20 yards but goals before half-time from James Ward-Prowse and Che Adams proved fatal.
Manager Carlo Ancelotti maintained during Everton’s run of eight matches without defeat in all competitions that a setback was inevitable somewhere down the line.
Indeed, the Italian ventured he would discover more about his side in their response to adversity.
Everton’s first chance to recover their enterprising early-season from – this was the first time in 12 matches they have failed to score – comes in seven days’ time at St James’ Park.
The Blues' best football in the opening half resulted in Sigurdsson hitting the woodwork.
Allan pushed a pass forwards for Alex Iwobi, who transferred the ball to James Rodriguez.
Sigurdsson looked up after collecting the Colombian’s pass and was pleasantly surprised to discover nobody closing him down.
The midfielder inched forwards and still no challengers. Taking on the shot was an irresistible option by now and Sigurdsson unloaded a venomous, dipping drive, which cracked the top of the bar.
That happened in the 19th minute, right when Everton were beginning to assert themselves.
James had rifled a free-kick down the throat of goalkeeper Alex McCarthy moments earlier – after we had the diversion of a battle of wills between Everton’s forward and referee Kevin Friend over the precise positioning of the dead ball.
The teams had swapped possession and chances until this point.
Indeed, Karen Carney, working for Radio 5live, witnessed Ben Godfrey race back at full-tilt to intercept as Everton’s last man after Southampton cleared a corner and declared she was watching something which looked “like a basketball match”.
A burst down the right from Godfrey, on his full Everton debut, created the visitors’ first opening.
The right-back’s delivery deflected off Jan Bednarek and landed for Iwobi.
Southampton centre-back Bednarek raced to cover and deflect the ensuing low delivery behind.
James, in his usual position on the right of Everton’s front three, was without partner-in-crime Richarlison on the other flank but nevertheless lifted three of his trademark passes to the left during the opening 45 minutes.
The most incisive of them enabled Iwobi to advance into the box. The forward delayed before hitting a shot which struck Stuart Armstrong on its way past the post.
Southampton had their chances during an opening 20 minutes when the midfielders and wide players on both sides gained the clearest sights of goal.
Indeed, Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s most notable initial work came in the form of holding-up play and giving defenders the hurry up.
On one occasion, Calvert-Lewin outmuscled Bednarek to create space and continue an attack when he was unquestionably second favourite in the duel.
Nathan Redmond swept wide when presented with a clear shooting opportunity from eight yards after terrific link-up lay down the left by Danny Ings and Ryan Bertrand.
When Oriol Romeu lobbed a pass to Redmond on the left the forward opted for power over his earlier measured approach.
Same result, though, the ball travelling past Jordan Pickford’s right post at the speed of light.
Pickford sprung to his left to parry a 30 yarder from Romeu after Godfrey partially cleared from Bertrand, the left-back’s raiding a major source of concern for Everton.
When Southampton scored 60 seconds later, however, the move unfolded down the opposite flank.
Ward-Prowse raised his boot to steer a throw-in forwards for Ings.
Collecting the return pass in the box, the midfielder hammered his finish across Pickford and into the left corner.
Armstrong converted in similar fashion five minutes before the break but the hosts’ celebrations were sawn off by an offside awarded against Adams, who did the leg work after fastening onto a long pass in the build-up.
Had Adams’ venture offside gone unnoticed Southampton would have led 3-0.
They went two in front when Ings escaped to the byline on Everton’s right to hook over a deep cross.
Adams controlled and smashed on target. Pickford might have kept out the shot but for a deflection off Sigurdsson, desperately trying to block.
Bernard replaced Iwobi for the second half and Fabian Delph and Anthony Gordon followed in short order – that pair coming on 13 minutes after the restart with Sigurdsson and Abdoulaye Doucoure making way.
Gordon, playing in the Premier League for the first time this season, promptly sprinted down the left to find Bernard.
He jinked and swayed into the box but James was crowded out following the eventual delivery into the centre.
Michael Keane stood tall for a crucial challenge to stop Ings going through one on one with Pickford.
And Ings was inches from meeting a ball flashed across the face of goal by Armstrong following a link-up between Adams and Redmond.
With 26 minutes remaining – and only eight minutes after his double change – Ancelotti summoned Gordon to the right flank and tweaked his formation.
The idea on the left was for Bernard to drift infield and give Digne the attacking freedom of that flank.
James, meanwhile, supported Calvert-Lewin up front.
Digne’s dismissal prompted another reshuffle: Delph to left-back but Everton with little alternative but to continue with a two-man forward line.
But Pickford was Everton's busiest player late in the game, leaping to tip over a header from Jannik Vestergaard following Bertrand’s corner from the right and holding on to another Romeu effort.
Everton have a fresh challenge in this strange season.