Two second-half goals consigned Everton to defeat at Southampton and prevented Marco Silva’s side from closing the gap on the sides immediately above them in the Premier League table.
Gylfi Sigurdsson side footed in after Kurt Zouma smuggled the ball to the Icelander on 90 minutes but Everton could not recover the deficit they faced following a strike from James Ward-Prowse and Lucas Digne's own goal.
Sigurdsson had forced Alex McCarthy into a flying stop shortly after half-time and defender Jan Bednarek threw his body in the way of an Ademola Lookman drive on 21 minutes.
But with the teams trading chances, it was Southampton who forged ahead when James Ward-Prowse thumped home five minutes after half-time.
The England midfielder reacted quickest to Zouma’s headed clearance and advanced. When he got within range – 20 yards or so from goal – Ward-Prowse drew back his right foot and unleashed an effort which raced inside Jordan Pickford’s right post. The Everton number one stood no chance.
And 14 minutes later, the luckless Digne toed the ball into his own net after racing back to stop Nathan Redmond from taking a shot at goal.
Twice in the space of 60 seconds around the 20-minute mark Southampton centre-half Bednarek stood in the way of Everton and a one-goal lead.
The Pole’s second block was more impressive than his first. Richarlison found Sigurdsson, hovering menacingly around the perimeter of Southampton’s box. Typically cool, Sigurdsson bided his time before slipping a pass to Bernard.
He punched the ball back where it come from, teeing up the onrushing Lookman for a blast which was heading goalwards before Bednarek chucked himself in the way.
Sigurdsson was the man foiled by Bednarek moments earlier, the Everton midfielder receiving another crunching Bernard pass and taking aim from distance but only finding the rump of Bednarek’s thickset frame.
Bednarek demonstrated another string to his bow shortly after, advancing to scoop a ball over the top and release Danny Ings, timing his run from deep. Pickford stood tall to beat out a ferocious hit from the Southampton striker.
Pickford had warmed up by this stage – something Ings knew only too well. On 15 minutes, the forward met Ward-Prowse’s inswinging, left-wing corner with a glancing header. England ‘keeper Pickford took off to his left and shovelled the ball forcefully away.
Ings was frustrated by Zouma not long after, the Everton defender muscling in front of his man to clear a lofted delivery from Redmond.
On loan Liverpool player Ings must have thought his luck was about to turn five minutes before the break. Slaloming beyond Idrissa Gana Gueye and Michael Keane, Ings felt Andre Gomes breathing down his neck.
Gomes put his toe in, directing the ball against the base of a post. Seamus Coleman did the rest, thumping to safety.
Keane had thwarted Ward-Prowse crucially on seven minutes, Gana doing something similar after 10 when he chased back to intercept a Redmond pass which was destined to free Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg on the left.
Hojbjerg and Redmond combined more successful just past the half hour. Saints captain Hojbjerg’s threaded pass sent Redmond scampering on goal but dragging his shot marginally wide. How marginally became apparent only when television replays showed the ball clipping the outside of Pickford’s left post.
Everton were steadily keeping hold of the ball with more success in the 15 minutes before half-time – a fact reflected in the figure which showed the visitors had claimed 57 per cent possession at the interval.
And a succession of purposeful passes directly after the restart spread panic through the hosts’ ranks.
Coleman rushed forward to deliver a cross which Lookman skilfully trapped on his chest before being given a nudge by Oriol Romeu. It was enough to unbalance the Everton player – but not sufficient to persuade referee Graham Scott to point to the spot.
Digne followed his fellow full-back’s example by bombing to the byline, showing defender Yan Valery a clean pair of heels en route, and standing up a cross which found Sigurdsson in space but seeing his powerful header turned behind by goalkeeper McCarthy at the near post.
Ward-Prowse then took over to defeat Pickford with an unstoppable strike and give Southampton the upper hand.
And Everton fell two behind in the most unfortunate circumstances on 64 minutes. Southampton worked the ball neatly through the middle of the pitch, with Ings playing the final pass to Redmond.
Digne bolted back and swiped the ball off the forward’s boot but inadvertently sent it hurrying low into the bottom left corner.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin had replaced Andre Gomes by now, the substitute joining Richarlison in attack and Sigurdsson dropping beside Gana.
At 2-0, RIcharlison made way for Cenk Tosun and Everton went all out to try to find a route back into the game.
McCarthy was at full stretch to punch out a cross from Bernard before applying the same method to get rid of a wickedly deflected Lookman delivery in the same passage of play
Silva made his final throw of the dice when sending on Theo Walcott for Bernard and switching Lookman left.
The game naturally became stretched with Everton forced to commit bodies to attack. Digne slid in to deny substitute Shane Long a shooting chance, while defender Jack Stephens flashed a header wide from another Ward-Prowse corner.
Calvert-Lewin headed off target under pressure from a pair of home defenders after Coleman’s run and cross with five minutes remaining.
Pickford dived to his right to thwart Long before Sigurdsson sparked a frenzied period of added time when he converted inside McCarthy's right post after Southampton wasted a succession of chances to clear their lines.
Everton piled forward in search of a leveller. Walcott looped over a cross from the left which evaded a host of blue shirts in the box. But despite forcing a flurry of set-pieces – and Pickford joining the attack for a corner at the death – there would be no grandstand finish from Silva's men.