Strong showing by Keane, Gueye power Everton to Europa League win
Goals from Michael Keane and Idrissa Gueye leave Everton well placed to progress to the Europa League group stage after beating Hajduk Split 2-0 in the playoff round first leg Thursday night.
Crowd trouble in the away section brought the game to a halt shortly after the opening goal, but the home side regrouped and scored again before half-time after stewards and police restored order off the pitch.
A fourth-successive clean sheet in all competitions laid the foundations for this victory, although manager Ronald Koeman admitted he was disappointed in how his team allowed their performance to dip in the second half.
While Koeman continues to fine-tune his various midfield and attacking options, the defensive unit behind them has begun the season in promising fashion, albeit with tougher tests around the corner.
New signings Michael Keane and Jordan Pickford have settled so quickly that both appear as though they have been a part of this team for years rather than a matter of weeks.
A clean sheet and two-goal lead should be a big enough platform to ensure progress in the second leg next week, but Everton missed their chance to put the tie beyond doubt. Pickford twice rescued his teammates as loose play presented chances to the opposition during a lacklustre second half.
Manager rating out of 10
7 -- Good use of the squad saw some changes while keeping a strong starting XI in place. Change of tact to employ pace and width on the flanks saw Everton carry far more attacking threat, particularly in the first half.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Jordan Pickford, 8 -- It was worth turning up just to see his exquisite volleyed pass out to the right flank in the second half. Alert to make three very good saves when needed after long periods of inactivity.
DF Cuco Martina, 7 -- An easy target for criticism in preseason but has gradually improved in each of his competitive outings since. Pushed forward whenever possible and delivered some excellent crosses.
DF Michael Keane, 7 -- A threat from set pieces throughout and showed his aerial prowess to score his first goal for the club before coasting through the remainder of his evening with ease in defence.
DF Ashley Williams, 7 -- This was a tough and uncompromising performance at the heart of the defence, with the veteran defender relishing the physical battle while also offering more composure in possession than he has lately.
DF Leighton Baines, 7 -- Driving run and delightful cross provided the assist for Keane while actual width ahead of him allowed the left-back to feature prominently across the 90 minutes without fear of being outnumbered.
MF Idrissa Gueye, 8 -- Well-timed run and delicate finish for the second goal matched his usual excellence without the ball. Building on his fine performance against Stoke, Gueye has started the season in imposing fashion.
MF Morgan Schneiderlin, 7 -- Only on the pitch for 45 minutes as an early yellow card seemed to play a part in his removal at the halfway point. However, those 45 minutes resembled the player so influential last season.
MF Ademola Lookman, 7 -- Full of pace and dribbling and battled surprisingly well to maintain possession in the first half, the young winger faded along with his teammates as the match wore on, but his speed and quick feet worried the visiting defence throughout.
MF Davy Klaassen, 7 -- Even at this early stage, it seems the former Ajax captain is going to divide opinion among supporters. Started slowly but gradually warmed to the task, playing a part in both goals and showing further signs of his potential.
MF Kevin Mirallas, 6 -- Offered width on the left side, maintained his discipline and generally stayed close to the touchline, but the midfielder would have hoped to do more with the possession he had.
FW Wayne Rooney, 6 -- Lone striker role no longer suits his game. Two missed chances rounded out a mixed display that also saw vision and deftness in the final third to set up Gueye for the second goal.
SubstitutesMF Tom Davies, 6 -- Began well after his half-time introduction but faded when pushed further forward after the final substitution.
FW Dominic Calvert-Lewin, 6 -- A willing runner and has the knack of forcing mistakes from defenders but was not overly effective in an attacking sense.
MF Muhamed Besic, N/R -- Customary yellow card defined a 15-minute cameo that typifies him as a player.
Luke is ESPN FC's Everton blogger. Follow Luke on Twitter @lukeofarrell.