Everton move a step closer to Europa League group stages

Michael Keane and Idrissa Gana Gueye score first-half goals at Goodison Park

Everton’s Idrissa Gueye scores his side’s second goal  during the  Europa League playoff first leg against Hajduk Split  at Goodison Park. Photograph: Nigel French/PA Wire

Everton’s Idrissa Gueye scores his side’s second goal during the Europa League playoff first leg against Hajduk Split at Goodison Park. Photograph: Nigel French/PA Wire

 

Everton 2 Hajduk Split 0

Everton kept a third consecutive European clean sheet and will take a healthy lead to Croatia for next week’s second leg of their Europa League playoff.

Hajduk’s Split’s boisterous supporters proved to be more troublesome than their players and Everton ought to be able to claim a place in the competition proper from here, even if they really should have won by a more convincing margin.

It is just as well Wayne Rooney has already scored the first goal of his second spell at Goodison because he will look back at the chances he had in this game and wonder how he failed to get on to the scoresheet.

Everton started brightly, with Ademola Lookman skipping elegantly past Josip Radosevic in midfield and Rooney deceiving Zoran Nizic so comprehensively that the Split captain was obliged to chop him down.

They might have taken an early lead had Davy Klaassen been able to reach a cross flashed across the face of goal after Rooney and Lookman had combined on the right, though on the odd occasion the visitors attacked they looked quite dangerous, with Nikola Vlasic narrowly wide with the first shot of the evening.

The home side found it easy to make inroads down the flanks, with Lookman showing up well in the first half, yet struggled to find a telling final ball. Several times they wasted good opportunities to cross, perhaps realising that they no longer have the aerial threat of Romelu Lukaku, only to fail to come up with a worthwhile alternative.

Much of a first half hour in which Everton dominated possession was spent shifting the ball rather pointlessly from one side of the pitch to the other, and when Cuco Martina did play an effective ball into the box Rooney snatched at the opportunity and shanked it wide.

A breakthrough arrived courtesy of a mistake in the Croatian defence. Dante Stipica’s weak punched clearance was seized on by Leighton Baines, who with the goalkeeper still trying to regain position had little difficulty in picking out Michael Keane for the centre half to nod in from close range for his first goal for the club.

That was the cue for an old-school disturbance from the travelling fans in a corner of the Bullens Road stand, rising as one to hurl objects into the adjacent Park End and attempt to break out of their enclosure, and the game was held up for five minutes while stewards fought to restore order.

Once play resumed Rooney had a goal disallowed for what looked a very tight offside call, and in the seconds before five minutes of added time was announced Everton increased their lead through Idrissa Gana Gueye.

Once again there was some help from the Hajduk Split defence. Under no pressure, Savvas Gentsoglou gave the ball away to the otherwise unimpressive Klaassen, who moved the ball on via Rooney for Gueye to slide a low shot into the bottom corner. Rooney might have added a third on the stroke of the interval when put clear by Kevin Mirallas, but this time Stipica managed a decent save.

Ronald Koeman sent on Tom Davies for the second half in place of Morgan Schneiderlin, who had picked up a booking in the first. Everton suddenly began to put more faith in crossing, perhaps because their opponents seemed uncomfortable in defending high balls, and Rooney had another chance from Martina but headed wide in a similar position to the one in which he scored against Stoke.

Rooney played well up front, causing the visitors problems all night, and when he dropped back to the number 10 position when Dominic Calvert-Lewis came on for Klassen, Everton were less impressive in attack. Koeman has been saying he still needs an extra striker, and he will view the second half of this game as evidence to support his argument.

(Guardian service)

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