Everton’s traditional Z-Cars anthem was rudely interrupted by the Europa League theme tune before kick-off, but the teething troubles went no further for Roberto Martínez’s men against Wolfsburg. Goodison Park hosted a display of clinical efficiency on its first European night in five seasons. Everton have returned with clear intent.
The final scoreline suggests a comfortable night’s work for the victors but there was defensive resilience as well as superior finishing behind Everton’s triumph. Tim Howard was by far the busier goalkeeper and the home side were gifted a penalty for their third goal when Aiden McGeady was tripped outside the area. Wolfsburg had 24 attempts to Everton’s 11, 12 on target to Everton’s five, but not the cutting edge or solidity of their Premier League hosts.
“We weren’t smart enough, we were naive,” seethed the Wolfsburg coach, Dieter Hecking. “I wonder if my players listen to me with the performance they put in.” His Catalonian counterpart, by contrast, revelled in the maturity the players displayed on his European debut as Everton manager. “The scoreline doesn’t reflect the difference between the two sides, both were similar,” he said. “We had to defend well and every time we went forward we were very clinical. It was a very satisfying performance. It felt really natural. The environment was incredible, with European football back at Goodison. It was everything you could expect and more. The fans were special and the performance was full of dynamic play from both sides. But we wanted to be ourselves and our performance showed real maturity.”
Having declared his ambition to win the Europa League, the Everton manager backed his words by naming an unchanged team from the weekend win at West Bromwich Albion and was vindicated with an opening goal based on intuitive understanding between his players. Wolfsburg started well with their four-man midfield controlling the opening exchanges, pushing Everton deep and allowing Brazil’s anchor at the World Cup, Luiz Gustavo, time and space to dictate the play. But the difference between the teams was illustrated in Everton’s first attack, a move to savour.
Goodison was enraptured as Leighton Baines combined with Steven Naismith, Naismith found James McCarthy, McCarthy flicked a glorious return ball to Baines with his back to goal, and the left-back drew the German defence before squaring to the Scot. The former Switzerland international goalkeeper Diego Benaglio got a hand to Naismith’s low shot but the ball squirmed under his body and took a final touch off Ricardo Rodríguez en route to the net. Uefa credited Rodríguez with an own goal, yet there was no detracting from the quality of the build-up. It also provided a rare glimpse of McCarthy’s creativity in the final third and should prompt Martínez to demand more from the Republic of Ireland midfielder.
Everton extended their lead on the stroke of half-time when they again prospered against the right-hand side of the Wolfsburg defence. Benaglio could only parry a dipping Kevin Mirallas shot into the path of Baines, who turned the loose ball across goal for the incoming Seamus Coleman to head his second goal of the season into the Park End net.
If there was a touch of fortune about Rodríguez rolling the first Everton goal into his own net and Baines managing to find Coleman for the second, there was a gigantic dollop attached to their third. McGeady capitalised on a defensive error seconds after the restart and was clearly fouled as he attempted to beat Robin Knoche, albeit contact was outside the box. The Italian referee, Luca Banti, having looked to his assistant, immediately pointed to the spot and Baines ignored the understandable German protests to send the Wolfsburg keeper the wrong way from 12 yards.
“It was outside the area and a fault by the referee,” said Hecking. “At 3-0 the game was lost.” His team’s response suggested otherwise as they exerted pressure on Howard’s goal but either found the US international in commanding form or their precision deserting them in front of goal. Daniel Caligiuri, Gustavo, Maximillian Arnold and the substitute Aaron Hunt all sent presentable chances at the Everton keeper, who produced a fine save to thwart a Rodríguez free-kick towards his top corner.
The Swiss left-back finally broke Howard’s resistance with another superb free-kick in stoppage-time but by then, with the again impressive Samuel Eto’o sending Mirallas sprinting clear for the fourth, Everton were home and dry. “Tim was magnificent and didn’t deserve to have that feeling at the end,” said Martínez. “In my eyes Tim’s performance was worth a clean sheet and that’s the way I’m going to keep it.”