Everton 1-0 Ruzomberok: Leighton Baines hands Toffees slender Europa League qualifier win
By Richard Morgan
Last Updated: 28/07/17 7:50am
Wayne Rooney's Goodison Park homecoming ended in a win as Everton beat MFK Ruzomberok 1-0 in their Europa League third qualifying round first-leg tie on Thursday night.
Ronald Koeman's side edged past their Slovakian opponents thanks to captain Leighton Baines' deflected drive 25 minutes from time.
However, while Rooney enjoyed a largely uneventful first competitive start since rejoining the Toffees from Manchester United earlier this summer, Koeman will have been pleased with how his other new recruits fared.
Ronald Koeman handed competitive debuts to Michael Keane, Davy Klaassen and Cuco Martina. Fellow new signings Jordan Pickford and Sandro Ramirez were only substitutes, while Ross Barkley (groin), Yannick Bolasie (knee) and Seamus Coleman (broken leg) all missed out.
And the Dutchman will be confident that his players can finish off the job when they travel to Slovakia for the return leg next Thursday.
Koeman knew just how tricky these early-campaign Europa League qualifying ties can be after being eliminated by Midtjylland while in charge of Southampton in August 2015.
And Ruzomberok, who had already knocked out Serbian side FK Vojvodina and Norway's SK Brann to reach this stage, were to prove dogged opposition in the first half as Rooney's homecoming turned into a slow burner.
The visitors, who surprised many by finishing third in the Slovak top flight league finish last season, gave as good as they got in the first half, with Maarten Stekelenburg being required to turn Erik Daniel's low shot behind for a corner just before the break.
Everton, meanwhile, huffed and puffed, but were largely devoid of many attacking ideas in the opening 45 minutes, with Rooney enjoying a low-key return to Goodison barring a few neat touches, some exquisite long-range passes and a couple of scuffed shots.
In fact, the Toffees were grateful to Maarten Stekelenburg, starting in place of Pickford due to the latter's involvement with England in the European U21 Championship this summer, for turning Peter Maslo's close-range header onto the bar just before the hour-mark.
That close call, coupled with the introduction of new signing Sandro Ramirez, appeared to stir the home side into life and they made the crucial breakthrough after 65 minutes, albeit thanks to a stroke of luck.
Kevin Mirallas' right-wing corner was headed clear by the visitors, but straight to the unmarked Baines waiting on the edge of the penalty area.
However, the left back's well-struck shot was not looking to threaten Matus Macik in the Ruzomberok goal, that is until it took a big deflection off Erik Daniel.
Mirallas also went close to doubling Everton's lead with a stinging volley 20 minutes from time, only for Macik to deny the Belgian with a brilliant reaction save.
But overall Koeman will be pleased to be taking a lead with him for what could be a tricky evening in Slovakia next week.
Man of the match: Kevin Mirallas
The Belgium international, whose future at the club has been in doubt in recent times, was his side's most dangerous attacking threat on the night, creating the goal for Baines with a right-wing corner.
And the forward was also desperately unlucky not to get his name on the scoresheet with a 70th-minute volley, only to be denied by Macik in the visitors' goal
The Toffees travel to Slovakia to take on Ruzomberok in the return clash a week today, before kicking off the new Premier League season by entertaining Stoke City at Goodison Park on Saturday August 12.