All the numbers read favourably for Everton following a precious victory over Southampton at Goodison Park.
Richarlison scored his fifth goal in five games, the exceptional Brazilian forward’s expertly-taken strike arriving after only nine minutes to settle Everton following their recent patchy home run.
The goals against column read 0, a second straight clean sheet for Everton.
Michael Keane – who was denied a goal by an offside flag – and Mason Holgate defended magnificently, winning a series of valuable headers and making vital blocks, as Southampton hunted for an equaliser.
Jordan Pickford, meanwhile, followed up his tremendous Merseyside derby performance with a terrific last-minute stop from Jannik Vestergaard which was the difference between Everton taking three points and one.
Allan completed 90 minutes on his first appearance since 16 December following a hamstring injury.
And Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who had a big hand in Everton’s goal, began and finished the match after his own brief absence from the starting line-up.
Carlo Ancelotti’s team stay seventh but they move level on points with Liverpool in sixth, one behind Chelsea in fifth, with West Ham in fourth holding only a two-point advantage.
Everton have one game in hand on all those teams.
Southampton can’t claim they hadn’t been warned about Everton’s creative wares prior to Richarlison’s opener.
Think of Abdoulaye Doucoure and the image is of an energetic and powerful footballer.
But the Frenchman is intelligent and subtle, too – Ancelotti fancies Doucoure can play anywhere on the field – and he caressed a ball which split Southampton’s centre-backs and located Calvert-Lewin.
The obvious thing to say after Fraser Forster flew out to smother at the feet of Calvert-Lewin is that the Everton striker was perhaps still feeling his way into the game.
He hadn’t started since the FA Cup win over Tottenham Hotspur three weeks ago, after all.
The reality of it, however, was that Forster did very well – and Calvert-Lewin soon proved he is right on his game.
Calvert-Lewin shrugged off the challenge of Mohammed Salisu to help Pickford’s long kick forwards to Gylfi Sigurdsson.
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ANCELOTTI: EVERTON TEAMWORK WAS KEY
Sigurdsson had a hat-trick of assists in that Cup game against Spurs and here was another – his eighth for the season – courtesy of a terrific ball directed into Richarlison’s run, left to right across Southampton’s defensive line.
Jan Bednarek, Southampton’s right-back, would have felt his heart sink as he observed the number on Richarlison’s back, evidence of the South American’s escape into space.
From there, Richarlison made a difficult job look extremely simple, gliding beyond Forster and finishing into the far corner from an acute angle.
It was an 11th goal of the season for the 23-year-old – and with better connection on a right-wing Sigurdsson free-kick shortly before half-time he’d have had a 12th.
Everton swarmed all over Southampton during a lightning start. Forster scrambled to his left for a brilliant save to keep out Richarlison’s header from an earlier Sigurdsson dead ball.
The flag was raised, correctly: Richarlison rushing into the area one second too soon.
And when Holgate did likewise after 25 minutes, Everton had a ‘goal’ scrubbed out.
Holgate dashed forwards from a crowd of bodies as Lucas Digne took his turn to swing in a cross from the right.
The right-back connected at the back-post, finding Keane to divert the ball beyond Forster.
It didn’t appear offside to the naked eye but viewing a second time over it was clear Holgate had jumped the gun.
Everton were sharper in the tackle and passing the ball with more purpose and authority than the visitors.
Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison, playing in front of a midfield diamond, were taking it in turns to play on the shoulders of an uncomfortable Southampton backline.
There was an example of Calvert-Lewin’s sky-high confidence right after the restart when Everton’s number nine jinked his way between challenges before being upended on the edge of the box.
Sigurdsson’s free-kick hit the wall and went over – but the positive start to the second half felt important.
Ralph Hasenhuttl has some very good players in his team, skilful and mobile midfielders and two dangerous forwards.
And they had begun creeping into the game in the quarter hour before the break.
Nathan Redmond thrashed over from the visitors’ first attempt – a bit of a hit and hope.
James Ward-Prowse was characteristically measured, however, when the England international had a chance to deliver a set-piece from the left.
Calvert-Lewin – a real defensive asset for Everton, he’d already won a big header to clear a corner and would send a later Ward-Prowse free-kick away from danger – dived to head past the near post.
For a split second, he’d have been concerned the ball was travelling the wrong side of the woodwork.
Salissu was up for the corner – probably grateful for a breather from being buffeted by Calvert-Lewin at the other end – but when the ball was recycled and Ings squared, the defender couldn’t organise his feet rapidly enough to force a shot.
Che Adams’ appeals for a penalty when he fell over following contact from Ben Godfrey after Ings spun a ball forwards were rather half-hearted.
Southampton, though, were skittish at times without the ball and manager Hasenhuttl was driven to distraction over the consistent concession of set pieces.
Digne hung over a deep free-kick on 57 minutes after Moussa Djenepo’s untidy challenge on Richarlison.
Keane sprung to head across goal but Ward-Prowse got the first touch. The partial clearance landed for Godfrey, who was denied a first Everton goal by a block from Vestergaard.
Another free-kick moments later, Keane winning the first ball from Digne’s delivery, once more, and going for goal but fractionally off target.
Ancelotti, meanwhile, would have been concerned by Southampton’s rising corner count.
Ward-Prowse has few equals when it comes to striking a dead ball and every one of his deliveries demanded Everton were resolute and focused.
Keane won a handful of valuable headers and Pickford was strong when the ball arrived under his bar.
At 1-0 and with time running out, Southampton’s attacked with increased urgency.
And with five minutes remaining, they had their best chance of the game.
Ward-Prowse swapped passes with substitute Nathan Tella, then ushered in Djenepo with a ball to the right.
Djenepo had time and space and made clean contact. All that was missing was direction, the ball screaming past the far post.
Southampton finished with another flurry of corners, Pickford fisting the final one clear, with opposite number Forster joining the away team’s attack.
Moments earlier, Pickford made a critical intervention.
Ward-Prowse whipped in his corner from the left, Pickford getting the initial touch before a bout of penalty-area pinball.
The ball eventually alighted with Vestergaard, who aimed Southampton’s first effort on target.
Pickford was equal to it, spreading himself to ensure the numbers added up just how Everton wanted them on a significant night.
Richi Gives Blues Perfect Start
Everton scored the opening goal in a Premier League game at Goodson Park for the first time since a draw with Leicester City back in January,
And the ninth-minute breakthrough was the product of three players imposing their strengths on a comparably hesitant away team.
Jordan Pickford’s punt forward pitched Dominic Calvert-Lewin into a straight fight with defender Mohammed Salisu.
Only one winner, there, Calvert-Lewin outmuscling his opponent and making positive contact again on the dropping ball as James Ward-Prowse raced across to try to lend his teammate a hand.
Gylfi Sigurdsson already knew what he wanted to do on receiving possession.
The Icelander – who had seen Abdoulaye Doucoure unzip Southampton with a neat pass three minutes earlier – fed a perfectly weighted and timed ball for Richarlison, who was too quick off the mark for Jan Bednarek.
Richarlison curved his run across Southampton’s backline and was unperturbed when met by the gigantic frame of Fraser Forster.
The Everton forward was a picture of balance and control as he slipped past on Forster’s left and clipped in his finish from a tight angle.
It was Richarlison’s 11th goal of the season and fifth in five games.
And Everton had the perfect start in their attempt to reverse the Goodison Park form which was threatening to undermine a very promising campaign.
Allan Key To Everton Balance
Carlo Ancelotti reckons his team is still trying to strike an efficient balance between defence and attack.
The signs latterly have been encouraging, Everton’s win at Liverpool nine days ago an exemplar in strong defence and cutting attack.
Allan coming back into the team following 75 days on the sidelines is a development likely to accelerate the progress.
The South American hurried and hassled, forcefully sending Nathan Redmond up a blind alley as Southampton tried to respond to Richarlison’s ninth-minute goal.
Allan was intelligently positioned to get his body between an early Ryan Bertrand cross and the waiting Danny Ings.
Adventurous Southampton left-back Bertrand links menacingly with Redmond on Southampton’s left and Allan routinely sped across to prevent Mason Holgate being outnumbered.
Allan’s starting position was in front of Everton’s centre-backs, at the base of a midfield diamond, cutting the supply line into strikers Ings and Che Adams.
The midfielder dropped into a back three when Southampton entered Everton’s defensive third, ensuring space was filled across the width of the pitch.
If one of his centre-halves went to engage an opponent higher upfield, Allan slid in behind on the cover.
He was aggressive in the middle of the park, sprinting to prevent any Southampton midfielder from turning with the ball at his feet.
Allan made himself available for passes from goalkeeper Jordan Pickford and centre-halves Michael Keane and Ben Godfrey.
In possession, he was economical, content on this first outing for more than two months to minimise risk.
Indeed, there was an element of Allan holding a little bit back on his 13th Everton appearance.
The 30-year-old, his head shorn since we last saw him, owns the experience and composure to feel his way back into action.
An early goal and the knowledge a clean sheet would bank three points, perhaps, fixed his mind on the defensive task.
Ancelotti held back Allan until certain of the player's fitness. The Italian appears to have got his timing right, with Allan completing 90 minutes and contributing to an efficient team performance.
High on Everton’s priority list as spring dawned was to discover a cure for the home ills complicating a bid for European qualification.
A position on the edge of the Premier League’s top-four positions is largely due to the 26 points accumulated away from Goodison Park.
There have been shoots of home promise in cup competitions, most notably last month’s astonishing FA Cup victory over Tottenham Hotspur – a fifth win from six knockout games at Goodison this season.
Equally, three of the current top-six – Leicester City, Chelsea and Liverpool – have failed to win league matches in L4 this season.
Defeats by Newcastle United and Fulham since the turn of the year, however, have tripped up Carlo Ancelotti’s team just as they appeared to be hitting their stride.
There is scant room to make amends for any slips as games begin to rush past and, accordingly, reduced margin for error at Goodison.
Clearly, the absence of fans in the ground is being keenly felt. But, as Ancelotti and his players have pointed out, this is a level playing field where every team has been dealt the same hand.
The circumstances of this season dictate that if Everton are to achieve their self-set goals, they must find a way of winning in an empty Goodison.
Southampton are on a poor trot but notoriously awkward opponents, nonetheless: energetic, in your face and boasting match-winning individual talent.
Everton, then, overcame a physical and mental test to draw level on points with Liverpool in sixth.
There are 18 points still to play for at Goodison, with Burnley the next visitors in 12 days.
It was imperative Everton followed their latest away-day success – at Anfield nine days ago – with a profitable return home.
They got on top early and made it count. Carry on like this at Goodison and we might be saying the same about Everton’s season come the final reckoning.