Late Lukaku penalty earns Everton Europa League advantage
Romelu Lukaku became Everton’s all-time leading goalscorer in European competition with a late penalty at Goodison Park, which secured the Toffees a 2-1 first leg advantage in their Europa League encounter with Dynamo Kiev.
Roberto Martinez’s Premier League strugglers, 14/1 with Coral to claim European glory, will travel to the intimidating NSC Olimpiyskiy with a slender one-goal lead, after a fortunate spot-kick from their brilliant Belgian.
Oleg Gusev had given the visitors an early advantage after sweeping in at the front post from a corner, before Scotland international Steven Naismith capitalised on an unstoppable run from frontman Lukaku to slot home an equaliser before the break.
The in-form forward then secured victory from the spot with a lucky left-footed drive down the middle, after substitute Leon Osman’s cross was handled by Danilo Silva.
A hostile Ukrainian environment awaits Everton in the second leg, but having overturned a stuttering early start to their opening encounter and producing another emphatic European display, Martinez’s men will be confident of setting up their first European quarter-final in 30 years.
However, that fantastic feat would come as a shock and an achievement which would be set against the backdrop of a supremely awful domestic league term, with the Toffees currently faltering in 14th position, just six points above the daunting dropzone.
A shining light in the Toffees torrid season has been the recent form of their Belgian bruiser Lukaku, whose penalty earned him his seventh European goal for the club, moving ahead of Fred Pickering and Andy Gray in the all-time charts.
The Chelsea outcast impressed throughout with his outrageous show of strength leading to Naismith’s leveller in the first-half, as he powered past several helpless Kiev defenders and stretching the backline with his dangerous forward runs.
Although silverware success is a distinct possibility, Everton’s primary aim will be to climb up the Premier League table, as the harrowing prospect of relegation unexpectedly looms large of the blue half of Merseyside, despite their European efforts.
Martinez’s Merseysiders have incredibly dispatched Bundesliga high-flyers Wolfsburg already in this season’s Europa League, and also thrashed Swiss outfit Young Boys 7-2 on aggregate, but have recently gone five consecutive league games without a win.
The Toffees’ Spanish boss will hope his menacing marksman Lukaku can convert his ferocious European form on to the domestic stage for the remainder of this current campaign, with tough clashes against Newcastle United, Southampton and Swansea City soon approaching.
Everton are 20/1 to face the drop this term, having lost eight of their previous nine league games on the road.