Everton directors told to stay away from Premier League match due to 'credible threat to their safety'

Everton's board of directors were told to stay away from their Premier League game with Southampton due to a "real and credible threat to their safety and security", the club said.

Before the match at Goodison Park, it was expected that fans would protest in the wake of last week's embarrassing 4-1 home defeat to Brighton.

The club said chairman Bill Kenwright, chief executive Denise Barrett-Baxendale, chief finance and strategy officer Grant Ingles and non-executive director Graeme Sharp would "reluctantly" stay away on the advice of security advisors.

Everton lost the game 2-1, causing them to slump from 18th to 19th in the league - which led fans to chant "sack the board" as players left the pitch.

In a statement, Everton called the decision "unprecedented" and said it was "a profoundly sad day" for the club.

The club said: "The board members received the instruction following malicious and unacceptably threatening correspondence received by the club and increasing incidents of anti-social behaviour - including targeted physical aggression - at recent home matches.

"This is an unprecedented decision for Everton Football Club - never before has our entire board of directors been ordered not to attend a match on safety grounds. It is a profoundly sad day for Everton and Evertonians."

A statement from a security and safety advisor released by the club said: "Following a thorough risk assessment, and in response to tangible threats received by the club and intelligence we have gathered, the club's Board members have been told they must not attend today's fixture."

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Everton fans have been furious following the club's recent bout of poor form.

The club have not won a game in the league since October, prompting supporters to band together to prepare a sit-down protest in the Park Stand after Saturday's match against bottom-of-the-table team Southampton.

Fans have been directing their displeasure at all the club's top brass, including the board of directors, the owner Farhad Moshiri, and manager Frank Lampard.

Before the game Lampard said he was "very aware" of the issues and described it as a "very difficult situation".

He added: "Everyone wants the same thing. We want Everton to win and there's a lot of passion at the moment, I understand that."

After the final whistle, Lampard said there was "no questioning the passion and effort of the players," adding: "My job is to focus and prepare the team to get right result, we didn't do that and we have to go away and look at the reasons why."