Everton may have left the Luminus Arena with a 1-1 draw with Genk but there was still plenty to excite Evertonians in Belgium.
After making his first start for the Club following his summer switch from Malaga, Sandro Ramirez laid on the first goal for Wayne Rooney - his second in three matches - and the budding relationship between the two Toffees forwards looks like one that could prove fruitful in the season ahead.
Sandro played 45 minutes of this eventual stalemate, with Genk’s Ally Samatta the host’s hero with a second half equaliser, following Rooney’s close-range finish on the stroke of full-time.
Sub Maarten Stekelenburg then secured the draw with a vital save to deny Samatta a second, as the Blues enjoyed a thorough evaluation of their fitness levels from their Belgian opponents.
After the friendly victories over Gor Mahia in Tanzania last week, and FC Twente in Holland on Wednesday evening, manager Ronald Koeman called on his players to step up another level against Genk, knowing this was the last chance to put down a marker ahead of next Thursday’s Europa League tie with the Slovakian team MFK Ružomberok.
“We will show what we did well against Twente,” said Koeman. “We need to improve and it’s always about getting that intensity to be well prepared for next week.”
With an eye firmly on that crucial Europa League qualifier at Goodison, Koeman named a strong starting XI against the Belgians that included five of the Club’s summer signings.
Jordan Pickford and Mason Holgate were given their first taste of pre-season action, having only returned to training this week following their exploits with England at the European Under-21 Championship in Poland.
It was evident from the outset that Genk were going to provide the Blues with their sternest test of pre-season so far.
The Belgians had had an extra week to prepare for this fixture and their extra sharpness showed in the opening minutes.
Young striker Leandro Trossard, a product of the Genk Academy, was at the heart of everything for the home side in a lively first half.
Adopting a ‘shoot on sight’ policy, the livewire forward forced an early save from Pickford with a deflected shot from distance, and then dragged two further efforts narrowly wide as Everton struggled to find their rhythm.
Genk were calling most of the early shots, although they were nearly undone in the 12th minute when Kieran Dowell floated a delightful cross towards Rooney, who just failed to get enough purchase on his header to beat goalkeeper Nordin Jackers.
At the other end, Trossard was proving to be a nuisance and, after making a clever run in behind Everton’s defence, he dragged another shot wide of Pickford’s left-hand post.
Gradually, the Blues began to grow into the game and Rooney went close again, this time curling a free-kick agonisingly over the crossbar.
Back came Genk again, and Pickford had to be on his mettle to repel efforts from Ruslan Malinovskyi and Trossard.
With half-time approaching, Everton suddenly stepped up a gear and struck a decisive blow.
Dowell was the instigator, slipping a clever ball down the right channel for Sandro, who scampered clear.
The Spaniard looked up and swept a raking low cross to the far post, where Rooney was lurking with intent and he calmly guided a left-foot finish past the keeper to give the Blues a half-time lead.
Koeman introduced Cuco Martina and Kevin Mirallas for Holgate and Ramirez at the beginning of the second half, with Stekelenburg replacing Pickford in goal.
And there was little the Dutchman could do as Genk struck back in the 55th minute. Martina’s headed clearance looped up in the air and Samatta thumped home the loose ball from penalty spot range with Stekelenburg powerless.
Then moments later, Samatta thought he had headed the Belgians in front, only for Stekelenburg to deny him with a simply stunning reflex save, somehow pushing the ball onto the bar.
Keen to give all of his squad as much game-time as possible, Koeman made a flurry of substitutions in the final half hour but neither side could find a winner.
With the changes coming thick and fast, the game’s intensity began to wane, although Everton will welcome the work-out, with the real business beginning next week against Ružomberok.