Rodwell bullets help Everton cruise
Jack Rodwell became Everton's youngest goalscorer in European competition with two spectacular long-range goals in their emphatic victory over Sigma Olomouc in the first leg of their UEFA Europa League play-off at Goodison Park. With Louis Saha also weighing in with a brace, this was surely the response manager David Moyes was looking for after the drubbing by Arsenal at the weekend.
Moyes recalled both scorers, dropping Joleon Lescott for a poor attitude in the wake of that defeat and after they had rejected two bids from Manchester City. Captain Phil Neville was drafted into defence, with Saha replacing Jo against the Czechs, who had defeated Aberdeen 8-1 on aggregate in the previous round.
After a nervous start when goalkeeper Tim Howard parried a shot from Michal Ordos, Everton flexed their muscles and the return leg next week will surely be a formality.
Everton almost took the lead in the 23rd minute when Leon Osman rattled in a shot only for Petr Drobisz to turn it over the bar. They continued to push forward, and Osman tried his luck again six minutes later but again saw his effort fly over the bar.
Everton's pressure paid off in the 34th minute, when Saha made the breakthrough to give them a lift. The former Manchester United striker got ahead of the goalkeeper, after Marouane Fellaini delivered the cross to find the corner with his effort. It was Saha's second goal in two games after he scored the consolation against Arsenal, and just the boost Everton were looking for.
They added a second six minutes later with a thunderous effort from Rodwell to mark his return to the first team. He thumped a shot beyond Drobisz from 20 yards, following a free-kick by Leighton Baines had come back off the wall.
One of Everton's brightest young stars, 18-year-old Rodwell wheeled away in a delight after such a fine goal, and Pienaar almost got a third before half-time only for the goalkeeper to get his body behind the ball.
Everton were looking to keep up the pressure at the start of the second half and stretched their lead in the 54th minute. They went 3-0 ahead thanks to another thunderbolt from Rodwell. Baines's free-kick was only partially cleared and Pienaar slid it back into the path of the teenager, who showed little hesitation to rifle a shot from 25 yards beyond a despairing Drobisz.
Rodwell then took a knock and as he hobbled to the touchline was given a rousing ovation by the Everton supporters. The Czechs did not seem to have learned their lesson and kept allowing Rodwell room to set himself up.
He did so in the 64th minute when Tim Cahill teed him up and was only marginally off target with Drobisz scrambling across his goal. It was all Everton at this stage with Stigma looking disorganised and dispirited.
It was becoming a stroll for Everton with the visitors tiring and Saha added a fourth in the 74th minute, with a sweet finish after he was set up by Osman. Three minutes later Rodwell was given a standing ovation as he was replaced by another bright youngster, Dan Gosling, as Everton surely secured their passage into the group stages.
The win was just the result Everton manager David Moyes was looking for after the drubbing by Arsenal and he said: "Jack has great potential and we hope he will go on to fulfil it. We will bring him along in the right way.
"He has a bit to go yet. We will use him in the games we see fit. Tonight he showed he is a very good player. He is excellent in a lot of European football and a lot of international football with his composure on the ball.
"He controlled parts of the game at different times. What I did not know was he was such a good shooter in scoring these goals. I know he strikes a lovely ball but I haven't really seen him rattle the back of the net like he did tonight."
Moyes was also pleased with Saha's contribution after the former Manchester United striker was recalled to the starting line-up. The Frenchman replaced Jo after coming off the substitutes' bench at the weekend. Moyes said: "I thought Louis did really well in pre-season. He was unlucky not to start on Saturday. You can see the quality he has got. He is an excellent player."
Moyes was relieved that his side had recovered from a poor start against the visitors, who knocked Aberdeen in the last round. He added: "It was a really good response from the players. I am really pleased with the result but we still have a difficult second leg to play.
"We did not set off particularly well. I thought the opposition did very well. They will feel aggrieved they should have had a penalty in the first half. So we had a bit of good fortune."