Perhaps it was appropriate that, after an evening of such mild protest at the brutal sacking of Nigel Adkins, Southampton's night should fizzle out in a tame draw. The departed manager was remembered here not with poison spat at the executive chairman, Nicola Cortese, but with bellowed respect for his achievement in hoisting the club 51 places in 26 months. The new incumbent was welcomed with polite applause. Mauricio Pochettino can be encouraged by more than merely the qualities of the players he has inherited.
Saints, four points clear of the teams in the Premier League relegation zone, retain a sense of optimism. The Argentinian could consider this a missed opportunity given the battering to which his side had subjected Everton before the interval. More ruthless teams would have secured victory in that frenzied period of ascendancy. Yet, with games against the Premier League's top two to come among the next three fixtures, Pochettino's adopted charges had gone toe to toe with Champions League hopefuls and merited a point at the very least. There was no disgrace in stretching the run instigated by Atkins to two defeats in 13 league games.
"I relish the hard start and I'd prefer it that way," Pochettino said. "And I enjoyed that. I want to thank the players and the fans for the kindness they have shown me and the team."
The personnel were eager to impress, and in Jason Puncheon's case perhaps rather too much, with the winger's anxiety midway through the second half forcing him from the turf and onto the toilet 20 minutes from time. "He was feeling a bit 'unstable' and had to go to the loo," the manager said. "It was an anxious day. Whenever there's a new manager the players want to impress and those nerves can get the better of you."
Thankfully none of the white handkerchiefs that had been mooted as a protest were required. It will take more than a handful of training sessions for Pochettino to make his mark on this squad and begin the process of taking the club, as Cortese has stated, to the next level. This was most likely the side Adkins would have selected and there were no discernible tweaks to system or style to reflect the upheaval of the last few days.
The fact that all mention of Adkins had been omitted from the programme – apart from a long-range photograph buried on page 21 and unacknowledged – suggested he has already been air-brushed from history but his players retained their upbeat momentum. Their display before the break was breathtaking, if lacking the finish they craved. Gastón Ramírez directed Saints' attacks cleverly, with Rickie Lambert a menacing focal point drifting in between centre-halves, and Everton should have been dispatched by the break. "It was probably our worst 45 minutes of the season so far," said David Moyes, his side having been left wheezing at the ferocity of it all. It was only Southampton's profligacy and Tim Howard's excellence that ensured the game retained a sense of contest.
Pochettino might have considered it an illustration as to why Southampton, a team he had argued can already compete with the best in Europe, are 15th rather than fifth. Quite how Lambert failed to convert a pair of free headers just before the interval was baffling, the first cleared from the line by a mixture of Nikica Jelavic and Leighton Baines after Puncheon's corner had prompted panic.
Jos Hooiveld was denied at close-range by Howard when the loose ball was lofted back into the six-yard box, with Everton defenders still dazed and confused. The American was performing a lone stand, his saves admirable both from Ramírez and Lambert, again, when the striker cut inside Phil Jagielka. When Howard was beaten, Lambert's free-kick from 30 yards thumped against the angle of post and bar.
It was hard to recall an Everton side appearing so befuddled, all their usual industry and endeavour spent in an attempt to stave off a flurry of goals. Yet they resisted, somehow, and simply had to improve from then on in.
Jelavic should have scored around the hour mark, fluffing a chance in front of goal created by the lively substitute Victor Anichebe's low centre. The Croatian appears bereft of luck at present. "This time last year, every chance he got in the box he scored," Moyes said.
Everton looked more fluid and impressive when Kevin Mirallas was flung on from the bench, making his second appearance in two months, and his first since early December, after a hamstring injury.
His impact might have been immediate, following a cushioned collection of Anichebe's pass and clever shuffle away from his marker to eke out space. Both were sublime, the finish rather more frenetic as he blazed over the bar, but the intent was clear. He can inject momentum back into Everton's campaign.
Southampton, with awkward games ahead, will hope to maintain their own steady climb towards their objective.