Everton made an eye-catching return to European action with an impressive 4-1 win over Wolfsburg at Goodison Park. In their first foray into continental competition in five seasons, an own goal from visiting defender Ricardo Rodriguez and a goal either side of halftime from full-backs Seamus Coleman and, controversially from the penalty spot, Leighton Baines effectively sealed Everton a winning start to Everton’s Europa League campaign before Kevin Mirallas and, spectacularly from a free-kick, Rodriguez exchanged goals late on.
After weathering a bright start by the German visitors, Everton were 2-0 up by half-time thanks to goals that embodied the positive, attractive style that Roberto Martinez has brought to Goodison Park and which helped them back to Europe via a fifth place Premier League finish last season. Steven Naismith’s effort after a delightful move involving Baines 15 minutes in had been kept off the line by Rodriguez, but his clearance struck goalkeeper Diego Benaglio and then deflected back off the Swiss full-back and into the net. Baines was again involved in the second right before halftime, setting up Coleman to head in, before he finally got on the score sheet himself two minutes after the interval. He should never have been handed the chance from the penalty spot, however, with Robin Knoche’s foul on Aiden McGeady clearly occurring outside the area.
If that decision was harsh on Wolfsburg, perhaps so was the score line, which was far more emphatic than the gulf between the sides over the 90 minutes. Particularly after going three goals down, Wolfsburg took the game to Everton and forced Tim Howard to be alert on several occasions to prevent a possible fight back before Mirallas ran clear to make it 4-0. Still, Martinez will ultimately be delighted not just to have made an ideal start to a tricky group that also contains Russian side Krasnodar and French outfit Lille. The only disappointment being that Rodriguez’s unstoppable free-kick prevented Everton from securing back-to-back clean sheets.
The goal was a fitting reward for Rodríguez after a superb performance in what was a night for fine full-back displays. That started with Baines instigating the opening goal by driving forward and combining with Naismith and James McCarthy to get into the box. His square pass looked set to lead to a fourth goal of the season for Naismith, but instead his shot instigated some rapid pinball between defender and goalkeeper before the ball went in off Rodríguez.
Former Chelsea attacking midfielder Kevin de Bruyne continued to look dangerous for a Wolfsburg side that has taken just two points from its opening three Bundesliga matches of the season, while Romelu Lukaku twice threatened the goal at the other end. Then in first-half injury time Everton crucially doubled their lead. After Mirallas’s shot was parried straight out by Benaglio, Baines astutely picked out Coleman in the middle to head into the unguarded net. Within a minute of the restart, Everton’s lead was increased further when the officials got it badly wrong and Baines sent Benaglio the wrong way from the spot.
Rather than waving the white flag in dismay, the goal sparked Wolfsburg into their best spell of the evening and they dominated much of the rest of the match. For a team that won 4-1, Howard was worked heavily. The American made a fine double save to deny Daniel Caligiuri and Luiz Gustavo and soon after made a spectacular one-handed save to deny a Rodríguez free-kick. Indeed, Howard made 12 saves in all, while Ivica Olic failed to work Everton’s keeper when going past Howard but shooting into the side netting.
The hosts began to pose an attacking threat again themselves near the end and Darron Gibson, in his first Everton appearance for almost a year, forced a save from Benaglio. In their attempts to ease the pressure, Everton were aided by the hold-up play of substitute Samuel Eto’o. And it was the veteran front man who played in Mirallas to score, before Rodríguez finally beat Howard with the final action of an entertaining European night at Goodison Park.