Belfast Telegraph

David Unsworth plays down talk of Everton facing a relegation scrap

David Unsworth is refusing to accept claims Everton are in a relegation battle despite seeing the Toffees hammered at Southampton on Sunday.

Everton have now lost eight of their last 11 games in all competitions and the 4-1 defeat at St Mary's leaves them just two points outside the Premier League bottom three.

Dusan Tadic gave Southampton the lead with a deft finish, with Gylfi Sigurdsson giving the visitors some hope with a stunning equaliser on the stroke of half-time.

That hope was soon extinguished as Charlie Austin headed home twice in six minutes, with Steven Davis adding a fourth late on.

Everton have not improved under caretaker boss Unsworth after sacking Ronald Koeman over a month ago.

They now have the worst defensive record in the top-flight, conceding 28 in 13 games, but Unsworth feels talk of a fight for survival remains premature.

"I wouldn't go that far so early," he said when asked if Everton were embroiled in the relegation battle.

"I think we are in a tough moment, I think we have a massive week ahead of us. If you ask me that question next week I can give you a more honest view.

"If the players didn't know they were in a tough situation they must do now. It is a massive week for the club."

Fellow strugglers West Ham, now managed by former Everton boss David Moyes, are the visitors to Goodison Park on Wednesday.

Unsworth has suggested the club may need to bring in new signings in January, despite spending big in the summer to land the likes of Sigurdsson, Jordan Pickford and Michael Keane.

"If it needs players who are injured to come back or January to come and go and get new players, something has to change," he added.

"This group of players is underperforming, whether it is Ronald in charge or me in charge it isn't working.

"There is obviously something not right going into games. On the training field everything looks right, we are getting everything we want out of them. But when we go into a game situation, because our confidence is low, we are conceding far too easily."

Southampton had scored just nine league goals leading into the game but enjoyed a free-scoring afternoon.

Austin, who had not scored from open play since the winner in a 1-0 victory over Everton 364 days ago, was handed his first Premier League start of the season.

He said afterwards he had a point to prove but Saints boss Mauricio Pellegrino insisted he had not made a mistake leaving Austin waiting in the wings for so long.

"I decided to choose another 11, I decided other team-mates were better for those games or occasions," Pellegrino said when asked about Austin's absence.

"He has trained much, much better in the last few weeks and I think he deserved his chance. You have to be ready because you never know when the manager will need you to be ready.

"Sure, I spoke with most of them but when the manager chooses 11 players it is because I feel in that moment they are right to play on that day."

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