WAYNE ROONEY’s dreams of playing in Europe for Everton are bound to have been a lot more exciting than the real thing.
The Toxteth lad came back home last night to a fantastic reception but for him that was just about as good as it got.
For it was anything but fantasy football from him – and his new team mates.
In the end it was Leighton Baines, not the returning hero, who got the crucial winner in this first leg qualifier.
And Rooney, not for the first time, found himself being dropped deeper to try and make an impact – just as happened so often while he was still at Manchester United.
Goodison boss Ronald Koeman started him as main striker in a three – man attack and there was plenty of huffing and puffing from the 31 year old.
Yet Everton only went ahead after Koeman brought on new £5.1million striker Sandro after an hour and sent Rooney back into midfield.
Yet before kick – off, at least, it was all about living that dream.
And Rooney wasn’t the only one at Goodison with his name and the number 10 on his back.
There were plenty to be seen amongst the sell-out Toffees support who have not only welcomed him back with open arms but paid for the privilege too.
He got the biggest cheer when the teams were announced as he awaited his second debut 4,628 days since his first one in a 2 – draw against Tottenham on August 17 as a 16 year old.
So much water has flown under the bridge since he became the second youngest first team player in Everton history behind Joe Royle.
That 27.5M move to Manchester United in 2004, five Premier League titles, a Champions League winners medal amongst 12 major trophies at Old Trafford.
The lad from Toxteth made himself record scorer for England and United, skippered both.
Yet to look at him against Slovakian unknowns, it was like years had been lifted from him – in attitude and enthusiasm at least.
It was no surprise that Rooney, at that 8th minute point bursting with energy, was involved in the first meaningful attack, which ended in goalkeeper Matus Macik punching away skipper Dominik Kruzliak’s slice.
He then got on the end of Baines’ low cross, sending a left foot shot wide from a difficult angle.
The 31 year old might have done better when he stretched to toe – end a shot off target after youngster Dominic Calvert-Lewin had captured the ball on the edge of the box.
There was also an air shot, his desperation to mark his second debut evident.
But in between those moments he was involved in the best move of the first half as he peeled off his marker, waited half a heartbeat and slipped to another Everton debutant Davy Klassen.
The £22.95 buy from Ajax then played a one – two with Calvert-Lewin before disappointingly shooting into the side netting.
Yet while Everton enjoyed 74 per cent possession their rivals who are in their first European campaign in eleven years were not exactly mugs and Maarten Stekelenburg had to look lively to divert a 38th minute strike from midfielder Eric Daniel.
The Dutchman was preferred by boss Koeman as his £25m Jordan Pickford, the most expensive English goalkeeper ever, is only a week back in training after summer duty with the Three Lions under 21.
Koeman’s decision looked a good one, too, as Stekelenburg got down fast and low.
Daniel’s shot was the first on target and the atmosphere within Goodison created by Rooney’s entrance had well and truly gone flat.
There was huge expectation from more than just the returning hero.
Koeman, having already sent £91.9M this summer, has inflated expectation and still has £50M – rated Swansea star Gylfi Sigurdsson firmly in his sights.
But with £25M centre back Michael Keane also making a first start for his new club ther was only the old, familiar feeling of frustration around the old ground with promises being made but not kept.
Things could have become even worse in the 57th minute as Jan Maslo rose to connect with a free header.
Once again the decision to play Stekelenburg looked the right one as he rose to touch the effort onto his bar.
But the Ruzomberok side, having begun to believe they might be on the point of really spoiling their opponents’ big night, switched off from a corner.
The ball landed in the path of Baines who smashed a 65th minute left footer that deflected off Daniel and into the net.
Kevin Mirallas then forced goalkeeper Macik into a flying tip-over while Rooney forced his way back into the action, looking a lot more comfortable in his more withdrawn role.
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