Well, the Toffees sure made us sweat it out.
Once again, Everton went down 1-0 early in a Europa League match, and once again Everton managed to claw its way back into the match, picking up a solid result.
Here are some thoughts from during and after the match:
- On the coverage on Fox Sports 2 in the United States, commentator Alexi Lalas had a lot to say about the predominantly negative support from the Goodison faithful, who were all over the team for the first half hour of the match. In all, I think Lalas was right to criticize the supporters, but I can certainly see how frustrated they must be. Everton's last home victory was December 15 against Queens Park Rangers, and I cannot say that for the first 30 minutes of today's match things look very promising. Still, while I understand the reasons for the fans getting on the players, it seemed somewhat unjust to me.
- Andriy Yarmolenko was an absolute nightmare for Luke Garbutt in the first half. Garbutt has tons of potential and has usually played well when called upon this season, but he struggled tonight against a player who is the joint top-scorer in the Ukrainian Premier League. There are surely plenty of good nights ahead for Garbutt, but tonight was not one of them.
- A problem that became apparent early on and lasted most of the game centered around Everton's left flank, or lack thereof. Steven Naismith deserves credit for coolly finishing his chance in the first half, but he contributed little else for the rest of the match, and simply is not a winger. I'm certainly not the first person to say this around here, but it was painfully obvious and needs repeating after tonight. I acknowledge that Roberto Martinez's only other option was Christian Atsu, so I'm willing to give him a break here, but it is something that needs to get sorted out.
- Leon Osman was only in the game for 15 minutes, but he did more in 15 than Ross Barkley did in 75. Credit to Osman, who is understandably not at his best at the moment, for coming in, finding space, making passes, and ultimately drawing the match-winning penalty. His touch was off at times, but that will return with time. The more troubling issue is the continued disappearance of Barkley. For most of the second half, Kiev sat behind the ball, daring Everton to work through them. Normally, this is the time when the Toffees need Barkley most, but he just didn't have it tonight. Fortunately, Osman came in to play the same role and made the big play.
- Speaking of big plays, I cannot go any further without acknowledging Romelu Lukaku. Very simply, the lad is well on his way to justifying the big chunk of change Everton put out to get him. We will need more than just one season to judge whether Lukaku, still only 21(!!!!!), was worth the money. But, with more performances like tonight's, that will be an incredibly easy decision.
- While 2-1 is a good result, and one I would have taken before the match started, I cannot help but feel that Everton could have taken more from this one. There were more chances in the second half, both before and after Lukaku's winner, and a 3-1 victory here would have made next week much easier. The Toffees are still very much in control of this tie, but if things go awry next week, we'll be looking back to the missed chances of today.
- Finally, I have to wonder what effect this match has on Sunday's visit from Newcastle. Everton have yet to win a league match immediately after an Europa League win and have only victories over QPR and Burnley after any non-league midweek match this season. Can they finally turn that trend around?