A brilliant first half performance gave Everton a commanding 2-0 lead to take into our Europa League Play Off second leg in Croatia next week. In a game that’ll mostly be remembered for the completely pointless and shocking crowd trouble involving the travelling Hajduk Split fans, Everton did more than enough to give us a brilliant chance to book our place in the Europa League Group Stage for the first time since the 2015/16 season.
As every game goes by, we begin to see how this new Everton is slowly beginning to play the way Koeman wants and see exactly why we’ve signed the players we have. Our latest summer signing, £45million man Gylfi Sigurdsson was introduced to the fans before kick off which set the tone for a lively game and brilliant first half performance. We were far superior to our Croatian opponents from early on with Ademola Lookman causing havoc down the right wing. His pace and trickery caused all sorts of problems for Hajduk and nearly resulted in our first goal when his low cross was inches away from being met by Klaassen. We were all over Hajduk from then on in really with Gana and Schneiderlin pulling the strings from the middle of the park and Rooney looking threatening up top. Our first goal came on the half hour mark when Baines’ chipped cross was met at the far post by the superb Michael Keane who bagged his first Everton goal with a strong header. Keane again showed his class with another top performance and didn’t put a foot wrong. The game was then halted just after the opening goal when the travelling Hajduk fans for some unknown reason decided to turn into some pretty poor football hooligans and began hopping the advertising hoardings, presumably trying to reach the home fans in the Park End. Fair play to the stewards and police who did a top job of stopping the unneeded violence from escalating into something worse despite seats being thrown from the discount Green Street hooligans. UEFA will no doubt have something to say about the episode and hopefully the club receives some sort of punishment as there’s no place at all for that kind of mindless violence in football.
The game resumed after about five minutes and it didn’t seem to push us out of our stride as we doubled our lead on 45 minutes with a beautifully worked goal that was expertly finished by Gana Gueye. Klaassen and Rooney combined well with Rooney playing a perfectly measured ball through to Gueye who slotted it into the net with ease. Rooney had a golden chance to put us 3-0 up right after Gueye’s goal which would have put the tie to bed but his telegraphed effort was easily claimed by the Hajduk ‘keeper. Our first half performance really was scintillating at times and is hopefully a sign of things to come.
The second half was far more low key and if you want to be harsh, a bit disappointing. It would have been nice to head to Croatia with a three or four goal lead and know that the tie is effectively over but there’s still work to do. Hajduk showed themselves in a far better light in the second half and if it wasn’t for the immense Jordan Pickford they could have grabbed themselves an away goal which would have completely changed the complexion of the tie. I feel that Hajduk will be a different proposition back in Croatia and whilst a two goal lead is decent and realistically should be enough, with a hostile atmosphere guaranteed to greet us we could find ourselves in a closer battle. Score an away goal in Croatia though the tie is over and we’ll find ourselves in the draw for the Europa League Group Stage. The overall performance was the best we’ve seen so far this season and with Sigurdsson possibly in contention to make his debut away at Man City on Monday, we should be looking forward to some more European adventures in the coming months.