Wolfsburg 0 Everton 2
Everton are through to the Europa League knockout rounds as Group H winners with one game to spare after pulling off a fine 2-0 away victory over Wolfsburg.
The Toffees’ qualification for the next round was actually confirmed during half time of this match due to the other game in the pool tonight, 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.
A spell of Everton possession led only to Samuel Eto’o sending the ball out for a goal-kick with a tame effort, and the hosts were soon back on the attack, Perisic running on to a through-ball and seeing his shot skid wide as Tim Howard came out to meet him.
The away side then suddenly came close to breaking the deadlock as Distin’s header from European debutant Luke Garbutt’s corner bounced up off the turf and against the woodwork.
The action switched to the other end again, Howard doing well to tip a strike from outside the box by Aaron Hunt wide, and Wolfsburg then had the ball the net through Perisic’s close-range finish.
The assistant referee’s flag was raised and the effort was disallowed, but replays suggested the offside call had been incorrect.
Having enjoyed some apparent luck in that instance, 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.
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 Barclays 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.
Howard was called upon to make another decent save moments later, pushing Perisic’s drive around the post and then palmed away a Marcel Schafer effort from distance.
Everton then struck again as Lukaku returned the favour to Mirallas in the 75th minute, feeding his fellow Belgium international, who produced a composed finish.
Wolfsburg kept pressing but to no avail, while Everton substitute Ross Barkley hit the back of the net with a shot, but became the latest player to be denied by the offside flag.