Everton’s Europa League group stage campaign started with a defeat as the Blues went down 3-0 against Italian team Atalanta.
Ronald Koeman’s men were already clinging to parity when Andrea Masiello tapped in to give the hosts a 27th-minute advantage.
But the real damage was done in the space of three minutes shortly before half-time, with attacker Alejandro Gomez’s blistering 41st-minute strike followed by a sweeping finish from Bryan Cristante.
This occasion had been nearly 27 years in the waiting for Atalanta – their last European outing saw them lose a UEFA Cup quarter-final to Inter Milan, for whom German legend Lothar Matthaus completed the scoring.
Another era altogether, then: a fact driven home by the regional daily paper and its evocative front-page headline: ‘Appointment With History’.
Add in the hosts’ cacophonous support – who had travelled in their thousands to the game despite it being staged 192km from their Stadio Atleti Azurri d’italia home – and it was little surprise Atalanta were bristling with intent from the off.
The contest was fewer than two minutes old when right wing-back Hans Hateboer bustled his way down the flank, exchanging passes with Cristante and Rafael Toloi before emerging from a tussle with Wayne Rooney to send in a cross that needed the backtracking Gylfi Sigurdsson to head behind.
Home striker Andrea Petagna was next to threaten, latching onto Timothy Castagne’s threaded pass and drilling a shot that cannoned wide off Michael Keane.
Gomez – captain and poster-boy of this Italian team – being clattered by Morgan Schneiderlin got the locals’ dander up – but the shrill whistles were soon being sounded for a first extended bout of Everton possession around the 10-minute mark.
The point of that particular exercise, halfway up the pitch, was to douse the early Atalanta flames – and lay a platform for the visitors to launch a mini-assault on their opponents’ goal.
Sigurdsson took aim from 12 yards but saw his effort pawed clear by Etrit Berisha. Then Rooney opted for a more subtle approach, playing a cute one-two with lone frontman Dominic Calvert-Lewin at the fringe of the penalty area but floating his chipped attempt a yard too high to bother the goalkeeper.
In the midst of all this, Gomez jinked his way past Mason Holgate but was then undone by his own quick feet, the Argentine stumbling over the ball when poised to charge unchecked into the box.
Keane and skipper Phil Jagielka then took turns to block firmly hit efforts from Remo Freuler and Cristante respectively.
But Everton were steadily being pushed deeper into their own territory.
Masiello would have made the breakthrough 60 seconds earlier than he eventually did - but for a wonderful stop by Maarten Stekelenburg.
Gomez was the architect, lifting a ball into the area and the chest of Petagna. His layoff was perfect for the onrushing Masiello, whose shot Stekelenburg somehow contrived to turn over at point-blank range.
The let-off, however, proved the very definition of short-lived. There was an element of luck in the way Petagna’s flick on Gomez’s whipped right-wing corner travelled through Holgate’s legs.
Masiello, though, was completely unattended – and had scarcely finished remonstrating with himself over his previous spurned opportunity – when the ball landed with him one yard from an unguarded net.
He had the simplest of tasks to turn it over the line and ecstatically obliged.
Atalanta, now, really had the wind at their backs – with Gomez running riot down the left.
The buoyant Italians’ next batch of chances came in a wave.
Schneiderlin bravely threw himself in the way of Cristante’s shot from distance, before Gomez slithered to the byline and crossed to the back-post for Hateboer.
He returned the ball across the face of goal but out of the compass of any of the three blue and black shirts in attendance.
Masiello pounced on hesitation in the Blues’ box to sneak in for a one-on-one chance only to be denied by the smothering Stekelenburg – with the ubiquitous Masiello then turning provider and playing in Gomez for a shot that Dutchman Stekelenburg kept out at the foot of his right-hand post.
There was a brief glimmer of hope for Everton on 37 minutes, when Calvert-Lewin was an inch from making contact with Rooney’s flighted ball over the top.
But then, in the space of three hurtful minutes, Atalanta inflicted a fatal double blow on the Blues’ hopes of retrieving anything tangible from their first competitive game in Italy for the best part of a decade.
On 41 minutes Gomez, creeping in off his left flank, collected Petagna’s pass 20 yards from goal. The excellent winger – ex of former Everton European foes Metalist Kharkiv – opened up his body and dispatched a wonderful, curling shot beyond the despairing grasp of Stekelenburg.
And with the home support still in raptures and revelling in Atalanta’s extended lead, their team poured forward to score a third.
It was Italian international Petagna who carried the ball over halfway, ignoring the unmarked Gomez’s pleas to spread a pass out to the left.
Petagana, so it turned out, knew what he was doing, waiting for Cristante to join him before slipping a pass into the run of the midfielder, who finished clinically across the helplessly exposed Stekelenburg.
The half-time whistle was met with the most guttural of roars.
Rooney, trying to engineer a Blues’ response 30 seconds after the restart, forced Berisha to beat the ball away at his near-post following Calvert-Lewin’s clever pass down the side of Atalanta’s three-man rearguard.
Minutes later, Nikola Vlasic, on his first Everton start, was unable to supply a finish to match his promising run.
The powerful Petagna, by contrast, got plenty behind a 50th-minute drive that required Stekelenburg’s latest intervention – the ‘keeper diving smartly to his left to save.
The Italy striker’s pace carried him forward to send in a low cross that found its way to Gomez at the back post, the South American this time scooping over from eight yards.
And Petagna was front and centre again when he played link-man to transfer Hateboer’s low delivery – at the climax of an electric counter - to the raiding Cristante.
The angular midfielder, on loan from Benfica, strode onto Petagna’s layoff but directed his shot marginally too high and against the top of the bar.
Petagna deserved his tumultuous ovation where he was replaced - with Cristante equally worthy when he was similarly feted as he took his bow shortly after.
In the meantime, Ronald Koeman had withdrawn Rooney, Schneiderlin and Calvert-Lewin, sending on Sandro Ramirez, Davy Klaassen and Kevin Mirallas.
The Blues, though, struggled to manufacture anything telling in the final third. A rather optimistic Mo Besic strike comfortably cleared Berisha’s goal, with a subsequent Sigurdsson corner glanced on for Mirallas, heading off target at the back post.
Sandro, bright after his introduction, ended one run infield with a neat backheel into Klaassen. The Dutchman made decent enough contact on his effort – but it was met on its way to goal by redoubtable Brazilian defender Toloi heading clear.
Moments earlier, Stekelenburg had got his gloves dirty for the final time, saving smartly down to his left from substitute Andreas Cornelius after the Dane had been played in by Gomez.
The game, though, had effectively been decided an hour previously; the second half for the home team merely an inconvenience before they could get their joyous celebrations under way.
For Everton, there is little time for navel-gazing. A trip to Manchester United awaits on Sunday.