The moment Wayne Rooney craved, the reason he came home to Everton. With his sons looking on the 31-year-old marked his return to his boyhood club with a fine winning goal against Stoke City as Ronald Koeman’s new-look team opened the season with a hard-fought victory. An ugly game was elevated by Rooney’s romantic script.
England’s all-time leading goalscorer struck with a thumping header on the stroke of half-time and produced a fine second-half performance to ease himself back into the old routine in royal blue. Rooney’s 199th Premier League goal was also his first for Everton since April 2004, not that he has endured a 13-year drought of course, and he was one of several impressive debutants in Koeman’s side. The most expensive British goalkeeper in history, £30m Jordan Pickford, produced an excellent save to prevent Xherdan Shaqiri equalising with a 25-yard bullet in stoppage time.
Everton, and Rooney, prospered after a pedestrian start.
Stoke, with two new signings in the starting line-up, had settled quicker than their unbalanced hosts. Mark Hughes’ team were comfortable with and without the ball as Darren Fletcher made an assured debut alongside Joe Allen in central midfield and fellow summer recruit Kurt Zouma enjoyed a solid start on the right of a back three. Koeman also went for a three-man central defence that Stoke sought to disturb with a series of fine passes behind Everton’s wing-backs, Leighton Baines and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, but they rarely threatened Pickford’s goal during a tedious first half.
Everton laboured for 45 minutes, their passing regularly astray and energy sorely lacking from their performance, yet caused Stoke problems on the few occasions they retained possession in the final third. Idrissa Gueye had two decent chances from the edge of the area, testing Jack Butland with one and scuffing the other off target, but their overall display put Goodison in a stupor until Rooney’s moment arrived. It was a memorable way to mark his second Premier League bow for his boyhood club.
Koeman’s other attacking recruit of the summer, Spain under-21 international Sandro Ramírez, instigated the breakthrough with a first time ball out to Calvert-Lewin.
The young striker was a strange choice for the right wing-back role and had been given few opportunities to give Everton the pace and width they craved but the manager’s decision reaped dividends when he delivered an inch-perfect cross into the Stoke area. Rooney rose majestically to send a thumping header back across Butland and into the same goal that received his first league strike for the club against Arsenal in 2002.
The 31-year-old broke Sir Bobby Charlton’s goalscoring record for Manchester United against Hughes’ side last season and revelled in his latest punishment, sliding to his knees in front of the Park End stand. His influence grew thereafter.
Koeman switched to a four-man defence for the second half, replacing Ashley Williams with Cuco Martina and pushing Calvert-Lewin into the attack. The changes brought immediate improvement from Everton who, with greater awareness from the England under-20’s World Cup winning striker, could have established a more comfortable lead.
Rooney released Calvert-Lewin behind the Stoke defence with an incisive pass. Sandro was completely unmarked to the striker’s left but he opted to shoot and enabled Geoff Cameron to make a crucial intervention.
Calvert-Lewin engineered his next opportunity himself, dispossessing Zouma with a strong challenge, but again opted to shoot when Gueye and Rooney were better placed and Butland saved at his near post. Rooney made his feelings known.
The introduction of Peter Crouch for the anonymous Saido Berahino gave Stoke a presence and menace they had previously lacked and it needed several last-ditch interventions by Everton to preserve their clean sheet. Pickford dominated his penalty area too when called upon and his late save from Shaqiri showed the value of investing between the posts.
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