Well, thank god that’s over. Ronald Koeman has guided the Toffees back into the Europa league group stages and we couldn’t be happier. In truth, by Everton’s Kiev/Benfica/Liege standards, it was a pretty relaxed night. That’s not too say it still didn’t have its moments.
I couldn’t wait for this one to be over from the start to be honest. Following the 2-0 win at Goodison in last week’s first leg, it felt as though there was little to gain from this game and a lot to lose. The job was half done and we just needed to see it over the line. As expected, the preview on the potential line up was completely wrong, classic. But rightly so, maybe Ronald does have one eye on Chelsea on Sunday. The squad depth is the best it has been for a long time, why not utilise it? A flat 4-4-2 seen Martina, Lookman and Besic return to the team with Sigurdsson making his first Everton start.
The game started sloppy with Everton seeming content on protecting their 2-0 first leg lead. The hosts seemed to see a decent amount of the ball but were very much restricted to half chances and long-range shots well off target. That’s most likely why, when Josip Radosevic picked the ball up from 35 yards out, he was almost invited to shoot by the Everton defence. Annoyingly the bastard hit a once in a life time shot that flew past Jordan Pickford into the Everton net. Picfkord had already pulled off a superb save just a few minutes before, tipping away a low close range shot, but he was unable to keep this one out. Right on half time, 1-0 the hosts. I won’t lie to you, it was an uncomfortable fifthteen minutes at half time. In my head, I’d already cried it in. We’d been here so many times before, we are well drilled on heartache. I was role playing the conversations with the Kopites in work and thinking of what terrible excuses I could come up with this time.
Step forward our Icelandic Prince. Now I’m not one to get carried away, but we may have seen the best goal of all time. A goal that would unite Israel and Palestine, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, cats and dogs, melt the hearts of both Labour voters and Conservative voters a like…..just kidding, we know Conservative voters don’t have hearts. But what a goal it was and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Just seconds after the restart, with the ball seemingly bouncing in the air aimlessly, Sigurdsson hit a volley from over fifty-four yards out, looping all the way over the goalkeeper into the back of the net. Cue the erection. Gylfi had absolute no right to even attempt that, that sort of wizardry would once upon a time get you burnt alive by the local villagers. 1-1 and some real breathing space.
Sigurdsson’s ridiculous goal from last night
Hajduk Split were seemingly rocked by the equaliser and looked dejected at the thought of trying to score three goals to turn the tie around. Three goals may have felt like Mount Everest to them, but for an Evertonian, a three goal lead feels like an Ant hill and I’m pretty sure in stoppage time I still heard some blues whistling and jeering for the referee to blow for full time. Good work. So indeed, when Ashley Willaims gave away a soft penalty in the 65th minute, the anxiety just flicked our plums to let us know we aren’t in the clear just yet. Lucky for us, Ahemd Said did his best Kevin Mirallas act, fighting with a team mate to take the resulting penalty. I’m not sure why he thought he was entitled to the penalty, he didn’t win it and was largely shite all evening. Nevertheless, we’d been there before, we know how that pantomime plays out first hand and with Pickford in goal, I can honestly say I knew he wasn’t scoring that penalty. The penalty was poor, but Pickford still made a good save. I was made up with the Pickford signing back in June, but I never expected to be so impressed with him so soon. Great shot stopper, vocal leader, guvnor of his area and a master of distribution. Every successful team needs a great keeper, and it looks like we have found ours.
The game was micromanaged by Everton following the missed penalty, they saw the remaining minutes out knocking the ball around the pitch, hardly giving Hajduk a sniff of possession. Funny enough, I read somewhere recently that apparently Mohammed Besic is a massive fan of Birthday’s. Strange thing I thought, he doesn’t really seem that kind of guy? But apparently, he just loves getting cards. *cough*. Sorry it’s late and I’m a little drunk. But yeh, Besic still managed to squeeze his way into the referee’s book before proceedings were brought to an end by the Referees whistle. Full time. Job done. Group stages secured. Banana skins avoided. This is where the European adventure really gets started. Look out for the draw at 12pm tomorrow, when we will find out who we will be taking on in the group stages. Until then, take care…… Up the Toffees !
– David (@DAHughes92)