Everton made a winning start to their Europa League campaign, but it was far from plain sailing for Ronald Koeman’s new look Toffees as they defeated Slovakian minnows MFK Ruzomberok 1-0.
The first half was one to forget for The Blues. Other than a couple of clangers from Macik in the visitors’ goal there was no real chances in the opening quarter of an hour and it wasn’t until the 18th minute that Rooney tried to hit one on the turn under pressure in the box but he didn’t come close.
The visitors didn’t lack for energy and when Rooney was hassled off the ball in the centre of the park, they broke quickly and midfielder Takac drilled one just wide.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin fought well on the right flank and set up Rooney after making a brilliant slide tackle on the Ruzomberok left back, but Wayne failed to properly connect.
Rooney was involved throughout the first period and on the half hour mark he laid a ball off for Klaassen who played a neat one two with DCL and bearing down on goal, the Dutchman should have done better than hit the side netting.
Ashley Williams was at fault for the visitor’s best chance of the first period as he played a careless ball straight to the feet of Ruzomberok winger Daniel, who advanced on goal and forced a smart save from Stekelenburg.
Everton began the 2nd half sluggishly as opposed to the visitors who came out all guns blazing. Ruzomberok had a couple of half chances before one of their centre backs forced Stekelenburg to tip a header onto the crossbar.
This seemed to spark The Blues into life as they turned up the heat, Baines hung a ball up at the far post which DCL did well to win, the ball dropped to Mirallas who blasted a half volley at goal, which the visitors blocked well.
Sandro Ramirez replaced DCL to the delight of the Goodison crowd and it wasn’t long before he made a positive impact, managing to win a corner on the right.
Mirallas whipped the corner in which was flicked on at the near post then powered home, via a deflection, by Leighton Baines for the crucial and relieving opening goal for the hosts.
Five minutes later Sandro was involved again, combining well down the right with Martina. The right back then curled a ball into the penalty area finding Mirallas, who did well to turn and blast a shot that looked destined for the top corner, but goalkeeper Macik pulled off a stunning save. With 10 minutes to go the game began to peter out, with Everton’s search for a second goal more tiresome than tenacious.
So Everton got the job done; they won, but not in the convincing manner they should have. It felt like a pre season run out with not enough urgency, endeavour or energy shown by The Blues.
The highlights included Calvert-Lewin’s tireless display, a solid display from Michael Keane, Klaassen and Rooney with some good touches, Gueye and Schneiderlin looking solid in the middle and Sandro’s cameo from the bench.
It’s far from a comfortable advantage to be taking to Slovakia next week and tonight’s display produced as many questions as it did answers. Ruzomberok proved tonight they had the energy and dedication to trouble an Everton side not yet at full fitness or sharpness.
There is still much work ahead for Everton before the Premier League begins and they’ll need to be at the top of their game to see out this tie next week and advance to the play-off round.