Europa League football returned to Goodison Park under the lights and Everton marked its return with a superb result against Bundesliga side Wolfsburg, becoming the only English side to overcome German opposition in European competition this week.
The performance may not have quite hit the heights that the 4-1 scoreline suggests but take nothing away from the Blues who kept Wolfsburg at bay with a combination of impressive defending and goalkeeping and then clinically despatched them with superior finishing in the final third.
Pleasingly, Roberto Martinez had named an unchanged line-up, opting for continuity over squad rotation and he was rewarded by his players who scored two goals in each half to put the game beyond the visitors' reach before Ricardo Rodriguez fired home an impressive consolation from a direct free kick.
It was a margin of victory that had looked unlikely in the early going. Wolfsburg had clearly been instructed to come out and press Everton with a high line which left the Blues hemmed into the own half for the first few minutes as they sized the opposition up.
When they had the ball, the Germans looked to move it quickly through Kevin de Bruyne and Aaron Hunt in the middle, with Ivica Olic and Rodriguez providing a threat from wide on the left. They would find Everton and John Stones (one rare error early on aside) in particular in obdurate mood, though, and once the home side had settled, they scored thanks to a really well-worked expression of passing football to scythe through Wolfsburg's defence.
Leighton Baines, James McCarthy and Steven Naismith's rapid interchange of passes ended with Baines overlapping on the left and his low cross was turned goalward by the Scot where goalkeeper Diego Benaglio appeared to get a toe on it, only for the ball rebounde off Rodriguez and into the net. It was a goal that deserved an Everton name next to it on the scoresheet but the lead was the important thing and the Blues had it.
That was followed by a fairly comfortable pattern whereby Wolfsburg saw plenty of possession but were largely denied the opportunity to do anything harmful with it. They were mostly restricted to long-range efforts that were either blocked or flew wide and it was Everton who nearly scored again three minutes from the break when Romelu Lukaku assumed free-kick duties and forced Benaglio to push his 25-yard effort away to safety.
The Blues did double their lead, though, on the stroke of half-time. Lukaku collected a return pass from Naismith and held the ball up until Mirallas had joined the attack down the left flank before cutting in past his marker and firing hard at the 'keeper. Benaglio parried his shot but Baines had once again overlapped on the outside and, reacting quicker than any of the white shirts around him, he prodded the rebound across goal where Seamus Coleman stooped to head home Everton's second.
The game was effectively put to bed less than two minutes after the interval, albeit in fortuitous circumstances. Aiden McGeady was alive to an awful giveaway by a defender, seizing on the loose pass and prompting the covering man to take his legs just outside the area. The referee, though, pointed the penalty spot and that was all the invitation Baines needed to plant a flawless penalty into the right side of the goal to make it 3-0.
With that cushion, the Blues lapsed into a sloppy period of play that allowed Wolfsburg to enjoy what was arguably their best spell of the match, with unease starting to ripple through the home crowd. That they weren't able to claw their way back into the contest was credit to Tim Howard who made a string saves, including one superb one-handed stop to deny Rodriguez from his first direct free kick opportunity and a finger-tip save that guided a De Bruyne effort safely past the far post.
There was also a blue shirt in the way of almost every Wolfsburg shot so that anything that wasn't blocked was deflected wide and the Blues dealt with the corners thrown their way with composure.
With an hour gone and every indication that the game was as good as won, Martinez withdrew Lukaku who had not had his best game but had still made some important contributions and introduced Samuel Eto'o up front. The Cameroon international was unfortunate not to end up on the end of a Baines centre that was cut out by a defender but he was on hand to flick a forward pass on in the closing minutes for Mirallas to score Everton's fourth. He had a clear run on the 'keeper and slid it past him with aplomb to cap an enormously satisfying victory.
Rodriquez, of course, would score that late consolation with a perfectly-placed free kick after Darron Gibson's foul that caught the inside of the post with Howard able to only watch but it only took the barest gloss off a fine victory for the Blues to kick off their Europa League campaign.
All in all, you can't ask for much more than a 4-1 thumping of a team that finished fifth in the Bundesliga last season and it lays down a marker for the rest of Group H that highlights us as the team to beat. If there were a few nits, they chiefly concerned a lack of ball retention in the middle of the park, with too many balls going astray but none of them were punished and it all serves as a learning experience for Martinez's team.
Two wins on the bounce now in all competitions, Everton's season feels like it has kicked into gear. Now we have to maintain this level of intensity as the matches start to pile up but tonight offered some very positive signs.
Reader Comments (21)
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1 Posted 19/09/2014 at 03:22:02
Mirallas and McGeady were excellent, Baines and Coleman scored. (Is it the 1st time our full-backs scored in the same match in Europe?)
Naismith keep scoring (I know it is an own goal, haha), and the one I want to single out is Eto'o, his touch, awareness and passing is world-beater in this match. We now have a world class frontline in Eto'o and Lukaku, the main concern is if Eto'o should use as a super-sub better than a starter. Anyone agree with me that the partnership of Eto'o and Lukaku is the best frontline in the past 20 years? (I have supported Everton since 1995.)
2 Posted 19/09/2014 at 03:14:53
Fine performance and it was interesting to note that the second goal came from a move started by a Jagielka hoof. Good to know we're mixing it up a bit.
Can't say I agree with the lad who phoned TalkSport to state that it was our worst performance of the season. Wolfsburg are a very decent side and I'll bet they don't concede four goals very often.
3 Posted 19/09/2014 at 03:59:48
It was a good game to watch. I was watching Setanta's feed, and I can't say who the commentators were, but in the 1st half just before Coleman put us 2-0 up, one of them said words to the effect of "It's that much of a joy to watch from both sides, you don't want the half time whistle to come".
I thought Howard had a very solid game. It's easy to be paranoid after our first 3 league games yielded 10 goals against - from apparently only 14 efforts. Last night Wolfsburg had more efforts than us, yet we won 4-1. So are we more clinical now in front of goal? Are we giving up too many gilt-edged chances?
Everton still has work to do to get out of this group - the fact that we went with probably our strongest available line-up from the off shows that. We can only hope that it doesn't detract from the league performances - it didn't last time, and we have a much stronger squad this time.
4 Posted 19/09/2014 at 04:07:35
5 Posted 19/09/2014 at 04:22:11
Martinez was proven right to go with a strong team and first choice keeper, especially When they had "their period " - Robles confidence isn't where it should be at the moment - we are clearly improving. Thats all anyone can ask.
Back to the league. I think we have a little score to settle this weekend.
6 Posted 19/09/2014 at 04:59:28
Darren @ 5, completely agree.
On the scant evidence we’ve had so far this season, Eto’o could be a very important signing for us.
7 Posted 19/09/2014 at 08:39:59
It was good to hear it a couple of times last night for Eto'o.
8 Posted 19/09/2014 at 08:55:27
1. We are scoring freely at he moment. Plenty of movement and potential finishers throughout the side. Okay, Lukaku is not at his best, but he is playing his part in general play.
2. The defence is improving in its shape and confidence, though Tim saved us on key occasions last night. Jags is coming back to form and Stones is growing into the centre back role.
3. We are still getting outgunned in midfield. Whilst Mirallas and McGeady played well going forward, it leaves holes in the middle. It was interesting to see just how much work Naismith did coming back (though he is a terrible tackler!).
4. We now have some real depth in our squad. It is sheer pleasure to see someone with the class of Eto'o coming off the bench and we have Besic and Atsu to play greater roles.
Onwards and upwards.
9 Posted 19/09/2014 at 12:16:30
On the domestic front apart from Manchester City and Chelsea there is every reason to believe even this early in the season that we have realistic hopes of finishing ahead of Arsenal and Liverpool but Manchester United and Spurs will be stronger.
10 Posted 19/09/2014 at 13:13:20
It will be interesting to see if Roberto changes the team in anyway for the Palace game. Personally I would start with the same side and barring injuries would replace Barry with Gibson, Naismith with Ossie and Rom with Eto after about an hour.
Then for Swansea I would play, Robles, Hibbert, Distin, Alcaraz, Garbutt, Gibson, Besic, Mirallas, Atsu, Ossie & Eto.
11 Posted 19/09/2014 at 13:26:29
I think that with our good start in the competition I'd be tempted to play Garbutt, Besic, Atsu and Eto'o against Krasnodar. I think a draw out there would be a good result, and I'd rather the likes of Baines, McCarthy and Naismith (never thought I'd say that) in for the massive Premier League games.
I love the fact we have an actual squad now!
12 Posted 19/09/2014 at 13:40:46
If you are please give a shout.
You will have my utmost respect as that's one hell of a hike.
13 Posted 19/09/2014 at 13:55:23
14 Posted 19/09/2014 at 16:46:45
15 Posted 19/09/2014 at 18:07:16
16 Posted 19/09/2014 at 18:20:46
17 Posted 19/09/2014 at 18:33:36
Naismith is going for player of the season - and I don't just mean for EFC - and Mirallas has become a torpedo, a destroyer of defences. Plus, twinkle-toes McGeady can run - fast - I never knew that. And he is starting to pass.
Rom is working hard and Eto'o looked like the signing of the season, and the back 4 looked like our best. Stones was born to play for us, wasn't he.
Howard - it's all been said, except that you don't really want your keeper to have that good a game, do you. No criticism of Barry (does he ever have a bad hair day?) or our wonderful Jimmy Mac, but midfield has to be strengthened. Suggestions?
18 Posted 19/09/2014 at 22:06:39
Lounge membership is not the cheapest way to watch football but so many empty seats were disappointing to say the least. Hopefully, after such a relatively poor turnout all round, the club will think again about its pricing policy for these games, which apparently was pitched at the same level as category F league games (i.e. the lowest priced matches).
Mind you, having already shelled out for the Lille home game, I don't expect any price reductions any time soon.
So, no I don't think there's any ' sort of fiddle' going on. Just a lesson for the club in how, and how not, to get the support turning out for occasions like last night.
19 Posted 20/09/2014 at 01:51:12
20 Posted 20/09/2014 at 09:54:52
21 Posted 20/09/2014 at 16:59:50
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