Wayne Rooney nets but Everton throw away a win at the death
Home side looked to have three points wrapped up before late Limassol equaliser
Everton’s Wayne Rooney celebrates scoring their first goal against Apollon Limassol. Photo: Andrew Yates/Reuters
Everton 2 Apollon Limassol 2
Everton navigated an arduous route into the Europa League group stage but are heading towards a damaging early exit. An 88th minute header from Héctor Yuste gave 10-man Apollon Limassol a merited draw at Goodison Park and left Ronald Koeman’s team winless in Group E.
A gift for Wayne Rooney and a first Everton goal for Nikola Vlasic had appeared to give Koeman the win he desperately needed having been soundly beaten in the opening game at Atalanta. But Yuste’s header from a free-kick, moments after Valentin Roberge had been sent off for the visitors, rescued a point for the lowest-ranked side in Everton’s section. Slow, passive performances are becoming a feature of Everton’s season under Koeman and this was another.
Around 1,500 Apollon fans made the journey from Cyprus and an enterprising start by the visitors, combined with the latest square-pegs-in-round-holes team selection and ponderous display from Everton, brought them early reward. Not for the first time this season Koeman’s formation baffled before being changed to spark an improvement.
The Everton manager deservedly recognised the contributions made by Tom Davies and Jonjoe Kenny in the comeback win against Bournemouth on Saturday by starting the homegrown talents against the Cypriot cup holders. Few expected them to form Everton’s right-flank, however, with Koeman opting for a 4-4-2 formation that had Davies on one wing, Gylfi Sigurdsson on the other, and three natural wide men on the bench. His current aversion to width and pace continues to produce laboured, unthreatening performances and limit the influence of Sigurdsson, the club’s £45m record signing.
At least Rooney was granted a more central role having been isolated out on the right against Bournemouth. The 31-year-old started in attack alongside Sandro Ramírez with Oumar Niasse, Saturday’s matchwinner and the source of some much-needed aggression, ineligible to play in Europe. The Senegal international was omitted from the squad list submitted to Uefa on 5 September, though Koeman insists the previously ostracised striker was in his plans all along.
Rooney almost connected with a Jordan Pickford clearance that sailed from one penalty area to the other but it was Apollon who made the livelier start and, seconds after coming close to an assist, the Everton goalkeeper was picking the ball out of his net. The breakthrough stemmed from a mistake by Ashley Williams, who played a blind pass straight to Anton Maglica on the right wing. The forward swept an inviting cross into the six-yard box for the unmarked Adrián Sardinero to convert at close-range, despite Pickford’s best efforts to intervene. Williams covered his face with his shirt as he digested a costly error, just as he did in the 4-0 defeat at Manchester United.
Koeman reacted by switching Davies out to the left and Sigurdsson inside but the Everton threat level barely increased. There were sarcastic cheers from the Goodison crowd at one stage when Rooney swept the ball out wide to the overlapping Kenny. And that was with Everton level thanks to a ludicrous gift from the visitors. Goalkeeper Bruno Vale played a goal-kick out to Yuste on the right of his penalty area and he was immediately closed down by the hard-working Sandro. The defender panicked and his attempted backpass to Vale sailed wide of the keeper and into the feet of Rooney. His first European goal for Everton was tapped into an empty net.
Rooney required painkillers after injuring his wrist when landing awkwardly from an attempted overhead kick. He also went close with a curling effort from the edge of the area while Sigurdsson and Davies both forced saves from the Cypriots’ goalkeeper as Everton gradually improved. Visiting counterattacks were rare but their movement in the final third remained more intelligent and unpredictable than Everton’s until Koeman made further changes at the interval.
Vlasic, one of the three wide men on the bench, was introduced on the left and enabled Sigurdsson to take up a central midfield role in place of Idrissa Gueye. The pair combined to telling effect to put Everton ahead for the first time in the group stage. Rooney’s attempted pass deflected off a visiting player into the path of Sigurdsson, who flicked a superb first-time ball into the Croatian winger. Vlasic, a £10m signing from Hajduk Split late in the transfer window, burst clear of the Apollon defence and beat Vale with a powerful finish between the keeper’s legs. Apollon, however, would change the complexion of the night and possibly Everton’s European campaign late on.