And in that darkened underpass, I thought “Oh God, my chance has come at last”
But then a strange fear gripped me and I just couldn’t ask
Fancy some European togger to keep your midweeks filled and help you escape that mind numbing humdrum of an existence as you stare at the walls and wonder at what point your life set off down a path you never wanted and from which there’s no turning back? Of course you do. It’s Everton and you fucking love misery. All that stands in the way of having your Thursday night dance card filled from September through December is a two legged tie against the third best team Croatia has to offer. Sounds simple enough right?
Sandro Ramirez missed out with what’s known in clinical medical terms as “a slight knock” so fellow summer recruit Wayne Rooney would be leading the line for Koeman’s Conquistadors. In a change to the scheduled programming, we started with two wingers too, Lookman with his first start of the season and Mirallas, either side of Klaassen in the ten. Midfield and defence as you were.
Everton made a bright start, with plenty of attacking verve, the width stretching the Croats’ backline and creating spaces in which to play. The link up play down the right between Martina and Lookman was particularly impressive, the full back’s perfectly drilled cross almost found the lunging Klaassen who was inches away from his first Everton goal.
The opener came on the half hour, a corner was partially cleared to Baines who “split” (geddit?) a pair of tackles and made the byline before chipping of a delicious teasing cross to the back post that Michael Keane was only too keen (ok I’ll stop it now) to get his head on. 1-0 and Everton in control.
There then followed a brief period where the antique wooden seating in the Lower Bullens was enthusiastically rearranged by the Hadjuk support, keen to test their frisbee skills with some rangefinders into the Park End. A couple of da’s in the front row took exception to this and all fucking hell broke loose in which the visiting support tried to kidnap a ball boy, some stewards got punched and a lot of nasty words were uttered in two languages. I’m guessing here obviously, I’m not fluent in Serbo fucking Croat. The aforementioned ball boy, rescued admirably by a steward, started doing keepy ups, safe behind a wall of fluorescent yellow. Think he’ll be fine.
Once play resumed, the rowdy Dalmatians were piped down within a minute. The tenacious Klaassen scrapped for every ball in midfield, won possession and played a neat intricate pass into Rooney whose equally impressive touch fell into the path of the onrushing Idrissa Gana Gueye, his reverse shot trickling in at the far post. The lead perhaps should have been more when on the stroke of half time, the same trio combined to see Rooney free in the box but his tame effort at the far post was easily gathered by the keeper.
Into the second half and Tom Davies came on to replace Schneiderlin who had picked up both a knock and a booking early on, so wasn’t risked further. The West Derby maestro was impressive from the off, demanding possession and finding inch perfect passes to both flanks as the home side continued to press for the goal that would presumably kill off the tie. For some inexplicable reason, Koeman decided to switch Lookman and Mirallas to opposite flanks and the Belgian never really found the same level of understanding with the impressive Martina that Lookman had enjoyed, and was replaced not long after by Calvert-Lewin. Lookman came back out to the right and that was where we were most profitable, a curled Martina cross finding the head of Rooney who headed narrowly wide.
At the other end, Keane was imperious in defence. Calm, cool and commanding, the 24 year old marshalled the defence, his years belying the lack of experience compared to his colleagues. On the few rare occasions where Split were able to muster a shot on goal, the unflappable Pickford in nets said “don’t fucking think so pet” or something equally resemblant of the North East, and fisted everything that came his way to safety.
Although they continued to press, the blues were unable to find that killer third goal and the referee drew things to a conclusion. Still 90 minutes to go in the tie but hopefully without tempting fate, Split shouldn’t have enough to cause any damage to the hopes of the group stages being reached. Then it’s on to planning elaborate air and rail journeys to the furthest flung outposts of continental Europe.
Next up, a nice easy trip to City on Monday night where there’s hopes another new face will be in action. Swerve doing that daft clap though lads, yeah?
Peace and love x