It definitely wasn’t the result that the majority of us expected but thanks to Leighton Baines’ deflected strike 25 minutes from time, we head into next week’s return leg against MFK Ruzomberok with a crucial 1-0 lead. The performance was undoubtedly flat and we lacked in the final third but let’s remember; we’re less than a month into pre-season. The most important thing about the game was to get through it with a win and that we did. It’s easy for us fans to underestimate the toll that a full pace, competitive match takes on a squad that is still resting players after their international commitments earlier in the summer and it was clear from early on that we are still short on full fitness and understandably so.
The game itself was pretty one sided with Everton having a staggering 72% possession but as we know all too well from the dark days of Roberto Martinez, possession means absolutely nothing. Ruzomberok gave as good as they got in the first half and threatened only once with Stekelenburg pushing a low drive away. We probably should have headed into the break ahead after Klaassen’s neat play with Calvert-Lewin gave the Dutchman our first clear shot on goal which he could only hit the side netting with. One of the biggest positives of the night was the performances of our new signings with Klaassen and Keane showing why we have invested over £40million for their services. On a night that was all about the return of Wayne Rooney he showed he still has more than enough quality and was neat in his build up play but didn’t get much service when he played up top in the first half with only a couple of half chances falling his way.
The second half was a bit of a wake up call for us as Ruzomberok grew in confidence and had the best chance of the game when Stekelenburg pulled off a fantastic fingertip save to push Peter Maslo’s header on to the crossbar, despite about 4 Ruzomberok players being offside. The introduction of Sandro definitely made a difference as his eagerness to impress gave us a much needed injection of creativity in the final third. He looked a real threat and many will hope he can go some way to replacing what we’ll miss from Lukaku. In reality we should really have won by more in the end. Mirallas was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet with Ruzomberok’s rather dodgy ‘keeper pulling off an absolute Worldie of a save to stop his goal bound effort.
As we all know, the main objective of last night was to win the game and although we all expected a much more emphatic victory, there should be no kneejerk reactions. Match fitness takes time to get back and when you have so many new signings still getting used to playing with each other, this process can take longer than usual. If we perform anywhere near our best in the return leg next Thursday we should progress to the Play-Off Round with little trouble.