A superb first half and a slightly less competent second saw Everton take a two-goal advantage in this final Europa League qualifying match
For this vital final qualifier first leg, Ronald Koeman made changes to Saturday in selecting a starting line-up: Pickford, Baines, Williams, Keane, Martina, Gueye, Schneiderlin, Klaassen, Mirallas, Lookman and Rooney.
Our Croatian visitors guided by coach Joan Carrillo lined up: Stipica, Memolla, Carbonieri, Nizic, Juranovic, Kozulj, Barry, Radosevic, Vlasic and Gentsoglou.
The referee, Ivan Kruzliak, and other match officials came from Slovakia.
Where the first half against Stoke had been slow and ponderous for the most part, tonight saw a different Everton. Confident, quicker of feet and thought and dominating possession right from the first whistle.
Martina and Lookman were linking well from the start down the right flank while Baines and Mirallas posed the left wing options.
Martina was proving a big threat to the Split defence with three or four telling crosses that saw the visitors stretched and conceding corners.
The best early chance came when Rooney found Lookman in space on the right and his low, first time cross was just too quick for Klaassen arriving at the back post.
Schneiderlin picked up a yellow card on 19 minutes as Everton pressed hard in midfield, harassing Split endlessly in a showing that must have pleased manager Koeman and the watching Gylfi Sigurdsson.
The almost relentless pressure eventually brought the opening goal when from Everton’s fifth corner, the ball was only half cleared and Baines nipped in, got to the byeline and put a sweet little dinked cross to the back post for Michael Keane to open his account on 29 minutes.
Sadly, crowd trouble by the visiting fans broke out three minutes later and caused a five-minute delay while police and stewards restored order.
Everton didn’t let the delay distract them and a smashing second goal came on 45 minutes as great pressure by Klaassen won the ball and he found Rooney who turned and played a superb pass into the path of Idrissa Gana Gueye and he coolly slotted to send Goodison into raptures.
Introducing the Everton Mishmash!
Everton were denied a third as Stipica at full stretch denied Rooney after Mirallas and Klaassen had again caused havoc in the Split defence.
It wouldn’t be unkind on Split to suggest that Jordan Pickford had largely been a spectator, having just three attempts to deal with all from Kozulj that were straight at him
Half Time: 2-0
Tom Davies replaced Morgan Schneiderlin after the break and Everton looked to maintain their dominance with an early right wing attack that ended with a glancing header from Rooney going wide.
Offside decisions begin to break up the flow of the game as Rooney alone was called four times.
A left wing raid by Split saw Pickford alert to deny Ohandza before Klaassen was replaced by DCL just past the hour mark.
Split made two changes and these helped them gain something of a foothold in the game as they sought a consolation marker, despite Everton still having most of the possession without the urgency in their play of the first half.
Besic came on for Mirallas on 76 minutes before an lovely right wing move ended with Lookman being called offside.
The final ten minutes saw Split enjoy their best part of the game with Pickford making two good saves to maintain his clean sheet and see the Blues in charge for the second leg.
Full Time: 2-0
Ronald Koeman commented about Michael Keane and Jordan Pickford on the start to their Everton careers, “It’s really good, the fourth clean sheet in a row and that’s really important because we know we have some really good players who can make the opening and score goals. So, that’s what you want. Good defending, good goalkeeping at certain moments in the game”.
On the game itself he added, “I was really happy with the first half, and really unhappy about the second. I think we lost a good opportunity to score more goals today and decide the qualification today. Two nil up before half time, a chance for Wayne to score a third, and we let the tempo drop in the second half”.
“I don’t think we were tired after 45 minutes, I don’t think our opponent made it more difficult, we dropped the tempo. We had some good chances, but we have to recognise that Hajduk had two or three good chances to get to 2-1, and we were lucky and that’s about the second half”.
Asked if that heightened the need to get another striker before the end of the transfer window, the manager commented, “No, it’s not about the striker, it’s about the tempo of the game and getting the maximum out of this game. In my opinion, two nil, yes they had some good chances but the two-nil was not the maximum. It’s not about the strikers, the players, it’s about the intensity and the way we need to play and in the second half it was not good”.