WAYNE ROONEY’S second coming at Everton began in fairytale fashion with a “debut” winning goal.
Rooney’s fine header in first-half stoppage time was enough to earn three points and to kick off a big season for him and the club on a happy note.
It was 15 Augusts ago that the 16 year old who would go on to become England’s record goalscorer made his Toffees’ debut in a 2-2 home draw against Tottenham.
And for all Ronald Koeman’s big statements in the transfer market, it was Rooney’s free transfer from Manchester United, back to the club he had never stopped loving, which stood out.
Indeed, until Rooney’s goal, the first half had been a non-event, particularly if you were an Everton fan.
Without Romelu Lukaku, whose £75m transfer to Manchester United was a key factor in Rooney’s return home, Ronald Koeman’s team lacked pace and power.
Of the five new signings on show for the home side, goalkeeper Jordan Pickford had made the most important contribution by keeping out a ninth-minute cross-shot from Mame Biram Diouf
But then came the magic moment. Rooney was involved early in the move, returning a pass to Idrissa Gana Gueye who then fed Sandro Ramirez.
The Blues’ new frontman had been disappointing until that point but he did well to lay the ball out to Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who floated a fantastic cross into the box.
And there was Rooney, rising high and unmarked, to power a superb header back across Jack Butland and into the net. Cue a raucous outpouring of emotion from him and Goodison Park.
After the break, Stoke did little to spoil the party or to damage the confidence of those tipping them to struggle and Mark Hughes to be the first managerial casualty of the season.
The otherwise anonymous Saido Berahino curled an early shot well wide and Darren Fletcher went close, but the Potters were poor.
Only a crucial challenge by on-loan Kurt Zouma – how Chelsea may regret letting him go – stopped Calvert-Lewin getting a shot away after Rooney’s delicious through ball.
Butland kept out a Calvert-Lewin effort in the 69th minute and although a double change by Hughes put pressure on the home side, Stoke could not find an equaliser.
But Pickford had to make a fine save from Xherdan Shaqiri in stoppage time to make sure Rooney remained the story.
Watford 3 Liverpool 3
Chelsea 2 Burnley 3
Crystal Palace 0 Huddersfield 3
Southampton 0 Swansea 0
West Brom 1 Bournemouth 0
INTERACTIVE STATS – CLICK on the categories to find out how the teams fared
INTERACTIVE LINE-UPS– CLICK on a player’s number below to see their stats
FACTS, STATS, GOALS AND LOLS
- Everton’s recent opening day hoodoo came to an end after drawing the last four matches.
- Stoke are without an opening day win since 2009 – their only one in the Premier League era.
- Mark Hughes hasn’t won any of his last seven opening day games, last winning in 2009 with Man City.
- Stoke are now yet to win back-to-back away games in the Premier League since October 2015.
- Everton handed five players their debuts in the starting XI – with Cuco Martina becoming the sixth when he came off the bench.
- Kurt Zouma arrived at Stoke looking for game time – but probably didn’t expect to be field as a right-back!
WHAT THEY SAID
Everton match-winner Wayne Rooney: “On a personal level scoring the winning goal at Goodison Park is a special moment. It doesn’t get much better.
“To play for this club is a huge deal for me. The early games in the season are always tough because you are always finding your rhythm in games.
“We’ve got some tough games coming up so it’s important we got off to a good start.”
DREAM TEAM RATINGS
Everton: Pickford 7, Keane 7, Williams 7 (Martina 6), Jagielka 7, Calvert-Lewin 7, Schneiderlin 7, Gueye 7, Baines 6, Rooney 7, Klaassen 6 (Davies 6), Ramirez 6 (Mirallas 6)
Subs not used: Besic, Stekelenburg, Holgate, Lookman
Goal: Rooney 45’
Stoke: Butland 6, Zouma 6, Shawcross 6, Cameron 6, Diouf 6, Allen 6, Fletcher 7, Pieters 7, Shaqiri 6, Bojan 6 (Choupo-Moting 6), Berahino 6 (Crouch 6)
Subs not used: Johnson, Tymon, Adam, Sobhi, Grant
Star Man: Wayne Rooney