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Monday 11 December 2017

Toffees come out on top of sticky group

Everton's Kevin Mirallas celebrates after he scored a goal against Wolfsburg during their Europa League Group H soccer match in Wolfsburg, November 27, 2014
Everton's Kevin Mirallas celebrates after he scored a goal against Wolfsburg during their Europa League Group H soccer match in Wolfsburg, November 27, 2014

Everton are through to the Europa League knockout rounds as Group H winners with one game to spare after a fine 2-0 away victory over Wolfsburg.

The Toffees' qualification for the next round was actually confirmed during half time of last night's match due to the other game in the pool, Krasnodar against Lille, finishing in a draw.

And Roberto Martinez's men - already 1-0 up by that point - then secured the bonus of top spot by finishing off their job in Germany, a Kevin Mirallas breakaway strike adding to that scored by Romelu Lukaku before the interval to wrap up a hugely impressive night's work.

There could have been other Everton goals when Sylvain Distin hit the crossbar and Aiden McGeady missed a sitter, but as well as posing a threat on the counter-attack, the Merseysiders defended bravely throughout as second-placed Wolfsburg applied considerable pressure. There was also some luck for the visitors, with a first-half Ivan Perisic effort being ruled out for offside when it should have stood while the score was still 0-0.

Overall, though, they certainly deserved a result that maintains their unbeaten run in the group, taking them to 11 points from five games.

The couple of thousand Toffees fans present at the stadium on a chilly night will certainly go home satisfied, and feeling optimistic about how far this continental campaign - the club's first in five seasons - can go.

In the opening stages of the contest Wolfsburg, roared on by their vociferous support, looked lively, particularly Croatia forward Perisic, who misdirected an early attempt on goal with his head.

Everton were then dealt a blow as James McCarthy limped off the field, the subsequent enforced substitution seeing Leon Osman come on in his place.

Mirallas fired a warning in the 36th minute with a nice strike that Diego Benaglio tipped over, before Everton skipper Phil Jagielka made a great block to thwart Wolfsburg's ex-Chelsea man Kevin De Bruyne.

Ruthlessness

Martinez's team then showed their ruthlessness on the counter in the 43rd minute, a breakaway move seeing Mirallas feed the ball to Lukaku, who got the better of Junior Malanda and slotted past Benaglio.

Wolfsburg looked threatening once more after the break, with De Bruyne having a shot saved by the legs of Howard and another former Premier League player, ex-Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner, heading in only to see the flag up again for offside - which looked like the right call this time.

Everton then passed up a great opportunity to make it 2-0 when Benaglio parried a Lukaku strike and McGeady ballooned his follow-up effort off-target with the goal at his mercy.

Everton then struck again as Lukaku returned the favour to Mirallas in the 75th minute.

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