Carlo Ancelotti says he wants Everton to experience the feeling of “touching” the top four after a win over Southampton that sets up a chance to overtake their rivals on Thursday.
Richarlison rounded Fraser Forster to score the only goal of the game against the struggling Saints as Ancelotti’s side moved level on points with Liverpool and two points behind fourth-placed West Ham with a game in hand.
If they beat West Bromwich Albion on Thursday they will move into fourth ahead of Liverpool and Chelsea, who play each other later the same evening.
“We have a great opportunity,” said Ancelotti after a first league win at home since 19 December. “I don’t know for how long it will be, maybe for one day, or two or three, but we would like to touch the position, so we have to put all our fight into the game on Thursday.
“We have to try to see how we feel if we are there.”
Richarlison’s goal, which came from Gylfi Sigurdsson’s pass, was one of two shots on target in a game where both sides failed to find any consistent rhythm.
Michael Keane’s effort was ruled out for offside while Dominic Calvert-Lewin did well to head James Ward-Prowse’s free-kick clear.
The best chances for the visitors came at the end when Moussa Djenepo fired just wide of the far post after a promising move before Jordan Pickford saved from Jannik Vestergaard, leaving Danny Ings kicking a post in frustration.
Defeat for the injury-hit Saints was an eighth in nine games as they remain seven points clear of the relegation zone.
Everton’s season has been an inconsistent affair, with their home form proving their biggest hindrance in an otherwise enterprising campaign.
But key to ending a run of three consecutive league losses at Goodison Park was the return of Brazilian Allan, who added extra protection in a midfield that has often left the defence exposed.
His first start since 16 December allowed Abdoulaye Doucoure and Andre Gomes to support Sigurdsson at the tip of a midfield diamond, and it was the Iceland international’s through ball that sliced Southampton’s defence to open the scoring.
The goal came from a Pickford long ball won in the air by the irrepressible Calvert-Lewin. The England striker was a thorn in Southampton’s side and combined well up top in the absence of the injured James Rodriguez, who missed the game with a “really light problem”, according to Ancelotti.
Both Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison also helped in defence as Everton thwarted dangerous set-pieces from Ward-Prowse.
Richarlison, who has scored in three successive Premier League games for the first time since December 2019, could have added to his 11th of the season when he almost poked in Sigurdsson’s free-kick.
But as Southampton pressed for an equaliser, it was Everton’s defence that held firm as Ancelotti avoided suffering a fourth successive home league defeat for the first time in his career.
It was not a pretty victory, but it came amid huge relief as Everton assistant Duncan Ferguson punched the air at the final whistle.
Calvert-Lewin said it was a result that underlined the squad’s European ambitions.
He said: “You have to believe, absolutely. Our aspiration has to be top four until it’s not possible. Nights like tonight – that consistency – is what will get us up there.
“Everyone wants to play Champions League football. It’s where we belong. It’s important I keep scoring goals, Richarlison keeps scoring, we defend well and we’ll see where that takes us.”
Saints’ alarming slump since the turn of the year was summed up by Ings’ frustration towards the end of this hard-fought game.
After beating Everton’s Merseyside rivals at Anfield on 4 January, Hasenhuttl’s side were sixth, equal on points with fourth-placed Tottenham.
Since then, however, a single point from nine games has engineered a slide to seven points above the drop zone. While relegation looks unlikely, they look a shadow of their former selves, especially with Oriol Romeu being ruled out for the rest of the season, joining the likes of Takumi Minamino, Kyle Walker-Peters and Theo Walcott on the sidelines.
Renowned for their unrelenting press, the visitors retreated to a deeper position on a chilly night at Goodison Park, and were picked off by the hosts’ more direct approach.
Forster was preferred in goal to Alex McCarthy in an attempt to reverse their slide, but one of the first actions for the England goalkeeper was to pick the ball out of the net.
The visitors improved midway through the first half, but lacked a punch up front even though Ings was restored to the attack alongside Che Adams.
Yet it was not until the final stages where they truly caused problems for Everton as Djenepo had Hasenhuttl holding his head in his hands as the winger missed the target after good play from Stuart Armstrong.
It looked as if they might finally eke out a leveller when Djenepo’s shot was blocked by Mason Holgate and fell to Vestergaard, but he slipped at a vital moment and a tame shot – Southampton’s first on target after 90 minutes – was pushed aside by Pickford.