“Shot through the heart, and you’re to blame,
You give love a bad name.
I play my part and you play your game,
You give love a bad name”
Coming thick and fast these little snippets of Everton, aren’t they? And when the L4 Azzurri are doing alright, you don’t mind, not one little bit. There’s no overhanging sense of dread and doom of another week ruined by a Martinez Matinee of Meh. It’s all aboard Ronnie’s Rocket (all right, settle down at the back) and full steam ahead. A sound point away against one of the two best teams in the league was a decent platform to build on and hopefully propel into the group stages of the arguably more glamorous* European competitions.
*removes tongue from cheek
Early doors yet but already injuries and strains are starting to show that the squad still needs a bit more depth come the end of the transfer window. With Sandro still out, Dom Calvert-Lewin led the line again with Rooney in the hole. Lookman and Martina were given the opportunity to continue their solid right sided partnership from the first leg, with Gylfi Sigurdsson making his first start, wide left.
Everton dominated early possession, content to pass the ball around confidently and probe for openings which proved few and far between. The hosts were eager in the tackle without showing any real attacking intent, although there was an early scare as Jordan Pickford fouled their striker in the box, only to be given a reprieve by the linesman’s offside flag. It looked largely like a game devoid of chances so when the opener came, it took everybody by surprise. Some fella with an unpronounceable name picked up the ball 30 yards out and lashed a thunderbastard that bent more than a Tory MP presented with a vote on private landlords. Pickford didn’t know if it was New Year or New York and the net rippled. Oh fuck.
We’ve all been here before with Everton in Europe. Frantically checking Skyscanner for flights to Bratislava to sticking the passports back in the drawer for another year inside the space of ten minutes. Fortunately that wasn’t to be this time. The end of the first half came a minute later and a chance to compose and regroup before an onslaught could take hold. Whatever RonKo said at the interval must have been taken seriously because the tie was put to bed within 7 seconds of the restart. A clearance dropped in the vicinity of Sigurdsson who hit a first time sliding volley BLAMMO on the run from 45 yards that left the keeper absolutely helpless and left me unable to form actual words for a good 15 seconds afterwards beyond a string of incoherent noises. He’s been here about a week and won goal of the season already. Can we take a minute to discuss how fucking magnificent his hair is as well? Utterly immaculate.
There might have been another wobble when big fucking pie head Ashley Williams lumbered into a ridiculous challenge on the edge of the area and the referee showed no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Fortunately Jordan Pickford said no, and read the poorly struck kick well, diving to his right to maintain parity. After that, the heart seems to disappear from the Croats and St Domingos passed the ball around in confident style akin to a training session and should have wrapped things up late on when Mick Keane strode from defence, beat two midfielders and played an impudent little chipped through ball to Rooney who unfortunately took too many touches and his eventual shot was easily saved.
All in all, a good night’s work, and progression to the group stages, meaning midweek football until Christmas at least and a chance for Evertonians to sup the finest ale the continent has to offer in moody little town squares, while trying not to get stabbed by some Ultra in a ski mask and Umbro trainers. Up the Toffees.