Everton’s first half display was enough to see off Hajduk Split with an impressive showing under the lights at Goodison Park.
Michael Keane opened his account for The Toffees and Idrissa Gueye scored a rare goal as the Blues dominated proceedings in the first period
Everton started the game well with a high tempo and a killer instinct, going at the visitors from the off with Ademola Lookman the menace early on. The young winger was a constant threat throughout the evening and performances of this calibre will only strengthen his claim for more regular starts. He had the first chance of the game cutting in from the right hand side, however his effort was blocked out for a corner.
The youngster combined well with Cuco Martina on the right flank as the wing back impressed with his wicked deliveries, a couple of which nearly deceived goalkeeper Dante Stipica. Lookman created the first real opening of the game as he wriggled away from his marker and whipped a perfect ball into the 6 yard area towards the onrushing Davy Klaassen, the run was good from the Dutchman but he was a whisker away from opening the scoring.
On the half hour mark The Toffees took a deserved lead through new boy Michael Keane. Kevin Mirallas whipped a corner in which the keeper came out for and punched out only as far as captain Leighton Baines. Baines first touch was heavy but he followed it and a crucial touch from Klaassen allowed Baines to reach the by-line and hang a ball up to the far post for the man mountain Keane to nod home his first goal in the royal blue.
Unfortunately this riled the travelling fans to cause trouble, attempting to enter the playing area and throwing missiles at Everton fans in the Park End. The referee pulled the players off for 5 minutes while the police and stewards restored order. It was a case of pathetic behaviour from brainless thugs desperate to cling to some dying tribal fantasy and the less coverage given to these types of occurrences the better.
The break hadn’t affected Everton’s focus as they doubled their lead on the stroke of half time. Split dawdled and dithered deep in their own half and Klaassen managed to steal the ball off defender Josip Juranovic and drive towards the penalty area. He then found Rooney on the edge of the box who picked a delightful through ball for Idrissa Gueye. His first touch perfectly set him up to slot home and double the Blues’ advantage.
Hajduk Split have lost four of their last five European games against English opposition and the Croatian side have lost on six of their seven visits to England in European competition, failing to score on five of their last six trips and it wasn’t hard to see why as Everton dominated the first period from start to finish. The crowd trouble from the away contingent nearly cost their side a third goal as in the 5th minute of time added on due to the disturbance, Morgan Schneiderlin and Klaassen combined superbly, with the Dutchman slipping Rooney in on goal. Goodison was waiting for the net to bulge but Stipica got down well to make a vital stop.
Schneiderlin made way at the interval, for Tom Davies, after being booked in the first period. A sensible decision from the manager as the game in Croatia will likely be a much tougher game and Schneiderlin will be needed to control the tempo from midfield as he did so well in the first 45 minutes this evening.
The 2nd half failed to live up to the excitement of the 1st as Everton looked to settle things down and control the game. They continued to threaten the visitors with Lookman and Martina again linking up well down the right side. On the hour mark however Hajduk Split began to create opportunities. Gueye looked to have been clearly fouled in the middle of the park but the referee didn’t agree as Franck Ohandza capitalised on the confusion and drove towards the box, striking a ball destined for the bottom corner but Jordan Pickford was having none of it and made a fine stop. Everton had taken their foot off the gas and had allowed the visitors a foothold in the game. Hamza Barry, who was probably their best player on the night, cut in from the left hand side and had a go, but his effort was wide of the mark.
With time running out Split’s best chances of the game all came within a one minute spell. Nikola Vlasic received the ball on the left and played a great ball across goal which just needed a touch into the net but substitute Ante Erceg couldn’t make contact. Erceg would have another chance just seconds later however as he received the ball on the edge of the area, dribbled his way into space and forced a great save out of Pickford who pushed it behind for a corner. From the corner the ball was headed out only as far as left back Hysen Memolla who drove one from range, but the athletic Pickford was equal to it again. The young stopper once again coming to his side’s aid when called upon and further proving his worth.
That was the last action of the game as Everton clung on to secure a crucial and pretty comfortable 2-0 victory. The return leg will be tougher, with a pressure cooker atmosphere and a Hajduk team pumped up with their home crowd behind them. The Croatians showed flashes tonight and Everton will have to be well prepared for a battle this time next week. An early goal would all but kill the tie off so I expect Everton to go there and try to play their usual game and attempt to control the tempo and look to work an few good openings early on. If Everton can deal with the environment then the rest should be easy as they were by far the better side this evening and they should be able to comfortably dispatch the opposition and advance to the group stage.