LIVERPOOL: Wayne Rooneyrolled back the years for Everton as the England striker’s clinical header sealed a 1-0 win over Stoke on his second Premier Leaguedebut for his boyhood club.
Rooney had already played one home game – a Europa League qualifier against Ruzomberok – in his second spell as an Evertonian following his close-season move from Manchester United.
But the 31-year-old’s first Premier League appearance for the Toffees at Goodison Park since 2004 still felt like a landmark moment for the player and his club on Saturday.
And Rooney rose to the occasion, heading home in first half stoppage-time to collect his first Everton goal for 4,869 days – when he netted against Leeds in April 2004.
That was enough for Ronald Koeman’s team to start the new season with three points and Everton will hope the return of the prodigal son signals the start of a push into the Premier League’s top four.
Koeman has spent over £90 million on new signings, with Swansea midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson likely to arrive soon, as he looks to fulfil that ambition.
Rooney’s name had been cheered to the rafters when the Everton team, featuring fellow debutants Jordan Pickford, Michael Keane, Davy Klaassen and Sandro Ramirez, was read out before kick-off.
Everton’s spending spree is intended to off-set the loss of Romelu Lukaku to Manchester United and Rooney ensured the Belgian striker wasn’t missed.
Stoke gave debuts to Darren Fletcher and Kurt Zouma and Mark Hughes’ side almost took an early lead when Joe Allen released Mame Biram Diouf down the right for a cross-shot that Pickford blocked.
It took 20 minutes for Everton to get a shot on target and even then Idrissa Gueye’s low drive was easily scooped up by Jack Butland.
Rooney dropped deeper into midfield in a bid to spark his team into life and immediately began to control the tempo, drawing a booking for Allen when he wriggled clear of the Stoke midfielder, who responded with a blatant tug.
In stoppage-time, Rooney once again took possession in midfield, quickly moving the ball wide before making a perfectly-time burst forward.
By the time Dominic Calvert-Lewin swung over a pin-point cross, Rooney had eluded the Stoke defence so completely that he had the freedom of the penalty area to bury a clinical header past Butland from 10 yards.
Sprinting towards the crowd in delight, Rooney slid to the turf to celebrate before he was mobbed by jubilant team-mates.
The glow from Rooney’s 199th Premier League goal was almost erased when Fletcher went close to equalising after half-time with a stinging strike.
Calvert-Lewin nearly doubled Everton’s lead when he robbed Zouma and cut into the penalty area for a drive that Butland pushed away.
Stoke laid siege to the Everton goal after sending on Peter Crouch and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting in the closing stages.
A superb save from Pickford, denying Xherdan Shaqiri in the closing moments, ensured Rooney wasn’t denied his winning return.