Everton v Wolfsburg
Everton maintained their record of never losing to a German team in European competition as they kicked off their continental quest with an excellent 4-1 win over Wolfsburg.
Steven Naismith’s double-deflected shot early on set the Blues on their way, before defensive duo Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines – players opposition coach Dieter Hecking had earmarked as threats in the build-up – netted either side of half-time.
Coleman doubled the Blues’ lead with a tidy header inside the six-yard box on the stroke of half-time and the advantage was extended further two minutes into the second period when Baines dispatched one of his trademark penalties in front of the Gwladys.
Wolfsburg refused to lie down, even when trailing at 3-0, but Kevin Mirallas’ third goal in as many games completed the Blues' scoring two minutes before the end.
Ricardo Rodriguez grabbed a consolation with a fine free-kick with virtually the last kick of the game.
The emphatic victory means Everton set the early pace in Group H, with Lille and FC Krasnodar drawing 1-1 in the other fixture.
Roberto Martinez signalled his serious intentions in the competition by selecting the same team that triumphed at West Bromwich Albion five days earlier.
It was the visitors, backed by 600 or so vociferous fans, that started the brightest, and former Chelsea man Kevin De Bruyne fired the game’s first effort over the bar on 10 minutes after some eye-catching build-up play.
Everton then clicked into gear and they struck the first blow after a quarter of an hour when Naismith was on the end of Baines’ cut-back to make it 1-0.
It was a brilliantly worked move down the inside-left channel, with James McCarthy also involved. The ball ricocheted off Wolfsburg keeper Diego Benaglio and defender Ricardo Rodriguez on its route to goal, the strike eventually going down as an own goal against the latter.
The Bundesliga side would have levelled straight away if not for a diving save by Tim Howard to deny Daniel Caligiuri. Veteran frontman Ivica Olic also shot high and wide from a tight angle and, shortly after, Romelu Lukaku lost his footing at the crucial moment at the other end of the pitch as the pace of the contest accelerated.
Wolfsburg responded positively after falling behind, with the energetic De Bruyne at the heartbeat of their play. The Belgian forced Howard into a low block in the latter stages of the first half as the American was kept busy on a record-equalling 20th European appearance for the Blues – an achievement shared with Tony Hibbert.
Everton ended the first 45 minutes on the front-foot and took a two-goal lead into the break thanks to Coleman’s headed tap-in.
Moments after Benaglio had dealt with Lukaku’s ambitious 40-yard free-kick, the Wolfsburg keeper fumbled a drive from Mirallas. Baines reacted to the rebound and registered his second assist of the evening by squaring for Coleman, who nodded in.
The second half started as the first ended - with another Everton goal scored by a full-back.
After setting up the opening two, Baines got his name on the scoresheet from the penalty spot after McGeady’s quick feet brought a foul from Robin Knoche just inside the area. The England man gave Benaglio the eyes and sent the German keeper the wrong way, planting the ball low into the bottom right corner of the Gwladys Street goal.
Everton had the three points sewn up from that point onwards, though they did have to weather a period of sustained pressure from visitors who refused to lie down and take a thrashing.
The evergreen Howard was proving unbeatable, however. He reacted well to keep out Luis Gustavo’s stabbed shot and then flew full stretch to his right to acrobatically beat away Rodriguez’s stinging free-kick – a save which prompted chants of ‘USA’ around Goodison.
Howard was then well-placed to repel Maximilian Arnold’s shot and followed this up making another top save, this time getting down low to tip De Bruyne’s angled drive behind for a corner.
The last half-hour of the contest was, in fact, bossed by the Germans who continued to pepper Everton’s goal. Giant defender Naldo was also unfortunate to see a free-kick whipped round the wall and into the side-netting.
There was a late appearance from the bench from Darron Gibson – his first action in over a year following a cruciate knee ligament injury – and the midfielder came close to capping his return with a goal, only to see his angled drive fractionally off target.
Another second-half substitute, Samuel Eto’o, contributed in Everton’s fourth of the evening when he played in Mirallas who beat the offside trap and raced clear to continue his excellent goalscoring run.
Wolfsburg got the consolation their performance deserved deep into stoppage time when Rodriguez bent a free-kick up and over the wall and past Howard, who stood motionless.
Still, it was a night to remember in Goodison’s first European game in five seasons.
Next up in Group H, FC Krasnodar at the start of October.