Everton 1-0 Stoke City: Rooney returns as Pickford shows his class.
“Remember the name; Wayne Rooney”, those famous words muttered by Clive Tyldesley all them years ago still ring true to this day. This match was all about the Premier League return of Wayne Rooney in the famous blue of Everton and he certainly delivered. His precise header right on the stroke of half time proved to be the winner as we began our 2017/18 campaign with a hard fought 1-0 win. As we have already seen from our two Europa League games, it’s going to take time to get this new Everton team to gel and play to their full but today showed us a glimpse of why we’ve invested so heavily in the likes of Jordan Pickford and Michael Keane.
The first half was as frustrating as ever, with the obvious lack of pace really effecting our build up play. Whilst Stoke barely threatened at all in the first 45 minutes, we didn’t show much either up until Rooney’s goal. The starting formation was strange to say the least with Calvert-Lewin playing in some sort of half right wing/half right back position. Ironically, Rooney seemed miles off the pace before his goal and provided little support for Sandro who again struggled to have much of an impact. Davy Klaassen was also very non-descript which really showed why we’re crying out for more creativity and the signing of Gylfi Sigurdsson. We seemed comfortable at the back however with Michael Keane again showing exactly why we paid big money for him. The back three system worked well enough but switching to a more rigid 4-3-1-2 after half time undoubtedly made us stronger.
There are very few more obvious examples of how a goal can transform a player’s performance than Rooney’s today. After bagging his 199th Premier League goal he was head and shoulders above everyone else on the field for the duration of the second half. His passing and ability on the ball hasn’t faded at all and he pulled the strings behind the front two of Sandro and Calvert-Lewin. He still makes everything seem so effortless and was the link between the midfield and forwards that we’d been screaming out for in the first half. We looked comfortable throughout the second half however as the game wore on, Stoke pushed further forward in search of an equaliser and the arrival of Peter Crouch gave many of us flashbacks of last minute sucker punch equalisers as we’ve seen so many times in the past.
One thing we’ve lacked over the past few years though is a solid goalkeeper and that’s exactly what Jordan Pickford was today. He was the personification of confidence and claimed a couple of dangerous Stoke corner’s late on before his match winning save late on in added time. When Shaqiri slammed the ball towards Pickford’s top left corner in the 94th minute it seemed for a split second that Everton were well and truly back before the £30million man came to the rescue. The attention this summer has nearly all been on the arrivals of Rooney and Sandro but Pickford could very well turn out to be the best bit of business we’ve done in years. Not since the days of Nigel Martyn or maybe Tim Howard’s peak years have we had a rock solid ‘keeper who you can rely on week in, week out to give you match winning saves but Pickford, as he showed last year at Sunderland, has all the ability and potential to be the answer to our goalkeeping problems for many years to come.
In terms of fitness we seemed far better than we were in our last competitive game 9 days ago and that was obviously expected. There are still areas where we need to strengthen, particularly in attacking areas but this opening day victory, our first since 2012, will give us the perfect platform to build on as we get ready to face Hajduk Split at Goodison on Thursday.