April 02, 2015

Two seasons ago, Everton finished fifth in the Premier League to secure a Europa League place, but it's been tough sledding for the blue half of Merseyside since then as the club tumbled to 11th place last season and find themselves in a similar position in 2015-16.

The Toffees enter Saturday's clash with Southampton at Goodison Park in 12th place with just 40 points and manager Roberto Martinez enduring a difficult time coaxing consistent positive performances out of his side.

The club is in the midst of a six-match winless run in league play following last week's scoreless draw with Crystal Palace, and they last claimed full points with a 3-1 victory over last-place Aston Villa on March 1.

Midfielder James McCarthy was sent off Wednesday after a second yellow card offence in the second half, and goalkeeper Joel Robles made several saves to earn the Toffees a point, but they're looking to start the run-in strong with a three-point effort Saturday.

"It is always difficult to come here and cope with their direct play," Martinez said of the trip to Selhurst Park. "When you have to do that with 10 men over 45 minutes, which it was with the injury time, it was a positive performance with resilience, hard work and understanding of the discipline required.

"Over the whole game we had as many chances as them. Seamus Coleman, Ross Barkley, Ramiro Funes Mori all had chances and in that respect it was a level game. We tried to win the game with 10 men and we carried some threat but we defended well as well.

"It was a very hard game," Mori added to the club's official television channel. "Crystal Palace are a team that are very strong. They throw long balls in, have really tall players and we had to face it up, be men and defend at all times.

Everton are trying to do the double over Southampton for the third time in the Premier League. They won both meetings in 1993-94 and in 2001-02.

Southampton (14-8-11) come into the match with plenty to play for - they are still in the hunt for a Europa League place in seventh place with 50 points, just three behind a bewildered yet fifth-place Manchester United side.Ronald Koeman's men are looking for their second consecutive win following a comfortable 3-1 triumph over relegation-threatened Newcastle United last weekend during which Shane Long, Graziano Pelle and Victor Wanyama all found the back of the net.

While Southampton's rise from League One in 2010 to top-half finishes in the Premier League each of the last two seasons has been nothing short of remarkable, the Dutch manager believes they can get better, and the next step in the club's evolution is to become a regular participant in European competitions.

"If I talk about the last three seasons, Southampton is really a stable Premier League club and, of course, we had the chance to play in Europe from last season," Koeman said. "We like to do it again for this season and maybe the next step is to be part of Europe every season.

"But that's difficult, because you talk about six teams in the Premier League that normally are the first six in the table. "It's great to see what happened this season that West Ham is knocking on the door, Leicester normally will win the title. That's fantastic for the Premier League, because it shows a lot of ambition to the rest of the teams. But still there's a gap in money and that's most difficult."

The Saints are attempting to claim just their second win at Everton. Their only other victory at Goodison Park came Nov. 2, 1997, when Matt Le Tissier and Kevin Davies scored in a 2-0 win.

The Toffees smashed Southampton 3-0 at St Mary's in August, with Romelu Lukaku bagging a brace in the first half and Barkley netting late.

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