FAI expect to keep O'Neill as Everton in freefall
Southampton 4 Everton 1
Everton's crisis deepened after another humbling afternoon but the FAI remain confident that Martin O'Neill will not be drafted in to sort out the Goodison Park club's problems.
The Ireland boss is the bookies' favourite to succeed Ronald Koeman, although the market tends to be a reliable guide only when a candidate is backed off the boards to the point where they are huge odds-on. That is not the case with O'Neill.
But Merseyside reports have claimed that the Derryman is on a three-man shortlist along with Tony Pulis and caretaker boss David Unsworth although the latter's prospects are surely doomed after another shocking display gave Southampton a comfortable afternoon at St Mary's.
Unsworth has called on the Everton board to end the uncertainty hanging over the vacant post with the Blues in danger of slipping into the relegation zone if they lose to West Ham on Wednesday.
"The club has to decide and the sooner that happens the better," said the former Goodison hero, who was unable to shed any light on the situation. "I went to see the board of directors before the game, as I always do when we come away. You are asking the wrong guy. The players need this resolved."
O'Neill had discussions with FAI officials last Friday and the Abbotstown authorities clearly believe that the verbal agreement that was reached in early October is binding.
The 65-year-old said as much himself in the aftermath of the World Cup play-off defeat to Denmark.
And the FAI's honorary treasurer Eddie Murray told a Sunday newspaper that he expected the manager to stay on for the Euro 2020 campaign.
"The contract is agreed and it is just a question of signing it. As of now, there is no reason to believe that he won't," said Murray. "As far as I am concerned we have an agreement with him and we expect him to sign."
His words are understood to reflect the attitude of the rest of the FAI hierarchy to fresh speculation. They are sure that the Everton link is a non-runner, but the flexible approach to signing contracts has left a vacuum that lends itself to speculation. O'Neill is his own man too, and was stung by the criticism that followed the Denmark reverse.
The FAI were anxious to tie him down to a new contract before the World Cup tilt came to a close, whereas the Irish manager would have been prepared to take a wait-and-see approach.
He rejected the opportunity to go to Leicester midway through his first campaign as manager, but the gap between now and Ireland's next competitive fixture in September presents a different scenario.
O'Neill does have a good relationship with Everton chairman Bill Kenwright, yet it was owner Farhad Moshiri who said on Friday that he had identified the three-man shortlist.
After being knocked back by number one target Marco Silva, there is a sense that they will look to a safe pair of hands to steer them out of danger but the FAI believe they will have to look elsewhere for that man.
Unsworth fancies a crack himself but said he was 'absolutely gutted' following a second-half collapse. Gylfi Sigurdsson had cancelled out Dusan Tadic's opener just before half-time but Everton's defence was stretched as Charlie Austin bagged a brace before Steven Davis put an emphatic look on the scoreline.
"The second-half performance from all our team was unacceptable," said Unsworth. "I'm sorry for all the Everton fans who came down here and all the ones who were watching as well.
"We can't keep performing like this, it's just not good enough. We are in a tough moment and we have a massive week ahead of us.
"It's killing me. I take responsibility, but we all have to as well. We're in a tough place and things have to change quickly. What I see is a happy squad, but I'd rather have an unhappy squad that's winning."
Everton have now conceded 28 goals, the worst in the division and the club's worst defensive record after 13 games since 1958. They also shipped five in the Europa League humiliation at the hands of Atalanta on Thursday.
"If it needs players who are injured to come back or January to come and get new players, something has to change," said Unsworth, with an indirect reference to Ireland's Seamus Coleman.
"This group of players is underperforming. On the training field everything looks right, but when we go into a game situation, because confidence is low, we are conceding far too easy."
Unsworth insists back-to-back home games against West Ham and Huddersfield offer a chance to halt the slide, but it remains to be seen if he will get the opportunity to bring about a revival of fortunes.