Everton will take a two-goal advantage into the second leg of their Europa League play-off against the Croatians thanks to goals by Michael Keane and Idrissa Gueye
The Blues built up some irresistible momentum in the first half and took the lead with half an hour gone when Keane rose highest to head home Leighton Baines's cross.
Gueye doubled the advantage in first-half stoppage time with a confidently taken goal off Wayne Rooney's pass and thanks to Jordan Pickford and excellent displays at the back by Keane and Ashley Williams, Ronald Koeman's men held off intermittent pressure from Hajduk in the second half to avoid conceding an away goal going into the second leg.
Ademola Lookman made his first start in a side that also included Cuco Martina and Kevin Mirallas and the Blues made a good start without really threatening beyond a succession of crosses into the box until Davy Klaassen came within an inch of connecting with a low ball from the right.
The lively Lookman saw an early shot deflect behind while Vlasić screwed a tame effort wide at the other end before Morgan Schneiderlin picked up an early yellow card for a late tackle on Kožulj.
Klaassen and Baines sliced efforts well over the crossbar until another corner off a Martina cross led to Everton taking the lead.
The ball was kept alive by Baines after the initial set-piece was cleared and with the help of Klaassen he surged back into the box and clipped a teasing cross to the back post where Keane headed home with half an hour gone.
The game was held up shortly afterwards, however, when it all went off in the away end with seats and punches flying towards stewards. Play resumed four minutes later with the Hadjuk section heavily guarded by police.
Everton remained on the front foot and a great move carved the visiting defence open after Klaassen had seized on a slip not far outside the box. The Dutchman fed Rooney who played Gueye in superbly to tuck a smart finish inside the far post.
Vlasić had the Croatians' first shot on target in first-half stoppage time but Pickford was equal to the effort.
And after Hajduk had tested the Blues' keeper from distance again, Rooney had a great chance to make it 3-0. The forward was played in perfectly by Klaassen but his attempt to place a shot past the 'keeper was saved.
Gylfi Sigurdsson was paraded before his new fans before kick-off
Rooney had a decent chance early in the second half as well when Martina was released into space on the overlap and he crossed to the middle but the forward's header drifted wide of the far post.
Everton's tempo understandably lessened as the second half progressed and they tried to hit Rooney's runs off the last defender, the veteran unfortunately not finding the referee's assistant in charitable mood.
Hajduk, meanwhile, kept probing and when a foul on Gueye wasn't given, Ohandza found himself free to run at the home defence and force a save from Pickford who palmed his effort away to safety.
Klaassen's evening came to an end with just over an hour gone when Calvert-Lewin was introduced in his place but it was Hajduk who started to carry the greater threat, Hamza firing wide after dispossessing Gueye 25 yards from goal.
Everton lost their way a little in the final quarter of an hour and Pickford twice had to beat the ball away to deny substitute Erceg from the angle and then Momolla from distance.
Lookman had a late effort blocked as the Blues briefly threatened to score a third but the score remained at 2-0 until the final whistle.
Kick-off: 8.05pm, Thursday 17 August, 2017
Everton: Pickford, Martina, Keane, Williams, Baines, Schneiderlin (Davies 46'), Gueye, Klaassen (Calvert-Lewin 62'), Lookman, Rooney, Mirallas (Besic 76')
Subs not used: Stekelenburg, Jagielka, Lennon, Holgate
One foot in the group stage
Mad traffic in around Ste’s and leading through to Birkenhead tunnel meant we parked up a little later than expected, but still in good time to enjoy a beer or two in the pub before excitedly making our way to Goodison Park. We timed it pretty perfect, arriving just a minute or two before kick off and instantly my eyes were drawn on the atmospheric Hajduk Split supporters, making plenty of noise and movement in the far corner. “Their going to be noisy” I said to Ste. That they were.
The trouble aside, their supporters certainly made for a lively evening and did get the Everton supporters going at times, though you can’t condone them throwing seats and causing the riot they did, forcing the game to be stopped temporarily. It’ll be an interesting trip to Split for those attending, that’s for sure.
We were a goal to the good by then, when Leighton Baines, the class-act, skipped past a defender and put in a peach of a delivery for the towering Michael Keane to simply head home. It was a bit of an old-skool dart and cross from Baines, and let’s hope we can continue to utilise Michael Keane’s considerable height with set piece deliveries, particularly with a set piece specialist signed and ready to deliver.
On 44 minutes we had doubled our money with another unlikely scorer in Idrissa Gana Gueye this time finishing nicely following good harrying by Davy Klaassen, and then a beauty of a ball from Wayne Rooney. At 2-0 we were happy enough, but we could have added a third before the break when Wayne Rooney was thwarted by Dante Stipica. Still, at the break we were hopeful of putting this tie to bed in the second half.
One of the lads who sits near us is often very critical of Ronald Koeman’s Everton only being able to play well in one half of a game, usually the latter half. While on this occasion, such was our high tempo and aggressive pressing, our first half was the best we’ve performed in our four games this season, the same could not be said of our sloppy second 45 minutes, when Jordan Pickford had to be alert on a few occasions to help preserve our two goal advantage. In the first half he was hardly threatened, all efforts straight at him, but he was needed in the second half when really it should have been Everton forcing that third goal.
Had we have been offered a 2-0 win before the game we would of course have taken it, however leaving the game at full time you felt slightly disappointed that we were not out of sight. As it stands, Hajduk Split are in the game, and should we surrender an early goal over there, particularly with their hostile crowd, we could be in for a touch night.
Still, with one foot in the group stage and four clean sheets in four games, it’s hard to complain. I’ll be interested to see where we stand in a month’s time. By then we will have played Manchester City away, Hajduk Split away, Chelsea away, Tottenham Hotspur at home and Manchester United away, plus a Carabao Cup fixture.
Tough games ahead, but if we can stay solid at the back and add a top striker in the next week or so, we can give these teams a good crack.
Pickford: Though his first half saves appeared easy, his positioning seemed perfect to draw the easy save. His second half saves were more difficult and he did well to help ensure Hajduk Split didn’t score an away goal. One counter-attacking kick which found Dominic Calvert-Lewin in the second half was majestic. We’ve got a great goalkeeper there, hopefully for a long time. 8
Baines: He’s started the season in great shape has Leighton and long may it continue. Great assist for our first goal. 8
Keane: My man of the match. Very solid at the back and capped it off with his first Everton goal. He’s settled in superbly and is a brilliant and composed centre back. Like Jordan, he could be a big player for us for a long time. 8
Williams: Did pretty well. Certainly seems more comfortable playing alongside Michael Keane than Phil Jagielka. 7
Martina: Though I was a bit baffled when he arrived, I can see why he was signed now. He can put a good ball in and gets up and down the pitch pretty well, can play a few positions and brings experience. For a free you can hardly complain. Had a good evening. 7
Schneiderlin: Hasn’t quite got going yet this season and may be a little nervous about his place with Gylfi Sigurdsson now arrived. He was withdrawn at half time, probably because he had received a first half yellow card. 6
Gueye: Took his goal well, got about the pitch well and distributed pretty well. A good night for Idrissa. 7
Mirallas: A bit in and out of the game. 6
Lookman: Had a good first half but was a bit in and out of the second. A bit unlucky not to score in the second half. 6
Klaassen: Had a good 10 minutes towards the end of the first half when he played a part in our second goal and set Rooney up for his other opportunity, but he didn’t quite kick on in the second half and was substituted to allow Wayne Rooney to drop back into midfield. 6
Rooney: Great assist for Idrissa’s goal but he cut a frustrated figure in the second half and was caught offside (by a very trigger happy linesman) on numerous occasions. He improved when he dropped back to the no. 10 position. 6
Davies (for Schneiderlin): Came into the game effortlessly. He’s a real gem. 7
Calvert-Lewin (for Klaassen): Full of running but still lacks that bit of composure. 6
Besic (for Mirallas): Nice to see him back on the pitch after over a year. He seemed to have been brought on to kill the game off a bit. He did OK, though his yellow card for a bad tackle was so unnecessary and preventable. 6
Everton's two-part quest to qualify for the Europa League group stage begins this evening as they take on Hajduk Split at Goodison Park.
The Blues welcome the Croatian side for the first leg which could be crucial to their chances of progressing given that the return leg in Split is likely to be a tricky assignment in a more intimidating atmosphere than was the case in the small environs of Ružomberok's home ground in the last round.
Indeed, Hajduk should pose a sterner test all the way around for Everton. Though they are not the force they were in the mid-1980s when the Toffees were also enjoying a heyday, they come from a country with a rich tradition of producing impressive footballers.
While most of the superstars of the Vatreni played for Dinamo Zagreb, Ivan Perišić was born in Split and started out in their youth system before making his way to the top in Italy via France, Belgium and Germany; reported Everton target Nikola Kalinić spent four years with Hajduk from the age of 17; goalkeeper Danijel Subašić played almost 100 games for them; and both Slaven Bilić and Nikica Jelavić started their careers with the club.
Ronald Koeman's men should be better prepared now than they were in the two drab Third Qualifying Round games when they were still in the throes of a truncated pre-season programme, although they could be two men down in terms of numbers. Gareth Barry, a late substitute in the second leg has left for West Bromwich Albion (he would have been ruled out with a minor injury anyway) while Sandro Ramirez is doubtful because of a knock he took in the Premier League opener against Stoke last weekend.
Koeman spoke in his press conference as if he expected the Spaniard to miss the game which would leave him with just two striking options in the form of Wayne Rooney and Dominic Calvert-Lewin. The latter will feel he earned his spot by grabbing the winning goal in Slovakia earlier this month and, if he is picked, supporters will feel he has a better chance of justifying his selection by playing in his natural position at centre-forward.
James McCarthy is still not fit while new signing Gylfi Sigurdsson won't feature in the game but is almost certain to be paraded before the home fans either prior to kick off or at half-time.
Perhaps one of the most eagerly anticipated aspects of the game is whether Koeman will have another crack at trying to make the three-man central defence with wing-backs system work and, if so, who will get the nod on the right flank. Tom Davies was given the brief against Ružomberok with limited success while Calvert-Lewin was, somewhat surprisingly, tried there against Stoke.
Given the attacking instincts he has shown in his two outings so far, Cuco Martina looks like he could slot into the role, as could Mason Holgate just as easily, but it remains to be seen whether the manager will opt of a flat back four with the Curaçao international at right back.
Up front, Kevin Mirallas could be the beneficiary of Sandro's misfortune by starting for the first time in three games.
Hajduk, meanwhile, will be without their main striker Márkó Futács. The Hungarian, who has had spells in England with Portsmouth and Leicester City in the past, has scored 22 goals in 29 games for the Croatian club since last year but misses this first leg through injury.
In any case, Hajduk's Spanish manager, Joan Carrillo, is expected to adopt a very defensive posture for this one which is typical in away legs by unfancied teams hoping to keep it tight in the away leg and spring a surprise in the return game on their home turf.
Everton should, on paper, have enough for the side that finished third in what is a league dominated by Dinamo Zagreb and Rijeka but they will probably have to again be patient and take their chances when they fall their way.
Kick-off: 8.05pm, Thursday 17 August, 2017
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Martina, Keane, Jagielka, Baines, Schneiderlin, Gueye, Klaassen, Davies, Rooney, Calvert-Lewin
* The game is being shown only in Croatia on HRT 2 and in the Middle East by beIN Sports but Everton look set to stream it live on their YouTube channel