Rooney’s return sticks to the script
Wayne Rooney’s first coming lit up a moribund period in Everton history. His precocious gifts gave Blues reason to cheer and a bounce in their step 15 years ago, and once again on his return he showed his ability to conjure light from dark. The gloom this time was only 45 minutes of a much brighter era.
But the former boy wonder still stuck to the script. His emphatic header came in added time of one of the dreariest halves of football Goodison has had the misfortune to witness in years.
Stretching his neck with exquisite technique he planted Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s cross into the roof of the net. His celebration, eyes clenched shut in ecstasy, head angled towards the sky, showed precisely what it meant.
It had been 4,869 days since his last goal for Everton, it felt a life-time ago. Few goals in that time could have meant as much, with his three sons and wider family of Evertonians watching from the stands.
“It doesn’t get much better,” he admitted afterwards.
Is that to be Rooney’s utmost purpose this season; the decisive moment of quality when a game is locked tight? It was today and, emboldened by it, his performance level flourished in the second half; sending precision passes endlessly forward, using his experience to help see the game out. It was a memorable return.
Rooney is here to keep creating those memories.
Three isn’t easy (on the eye)
You won’t stop Ronald Koeman experimenting with a back three. It doesn’t matter how many supporter moans, how many keyboard rants.
But let’s have a go anyway.
It’s not that the system will never work, but its efficacy at Goodison has been limited at best. Today it produced an agonising first half, left Everton looking severely disjointed, and most bizarrely asked a 20-year-old centre forward to operate as a wing-back.
It was a strange formation for a team so sorely lacking a focal point in attack. The ball simply wasn’t sticking up front and the deployment of two defensive midfielders in Idrissa Gueye and Morgan Schneiderlin looked unecessarily cautious.
Koeman isn’t stubborn to a fault. He corrected his mistake at half time and the benefits were abundantly clear. “It was my fault, I changed it,” he later conceded with a shrug.
Calvert-Lewin thrived in his proper position; the attack functioned more smoothly. Everton found gaps in a Stoke defence which had previously been typically robust.
Koeman has form for decisive action to right his…