Young Boys 1 Everton 4
Everton look as good as assured of a place in the last 16 of the Europa League after a fine performance against Young Boys on the Swiss outfit’s artificial pitch saw Romelu Lukaku notch a hat-trick and the Merseysiders claim a 4-1 first-leg victory.
Toffees boss Roberto Martinez had stressed before the game that his players were “ready” for the challenge having prepared by training on a similar surface back home, but it looked as if they might be in for a troubled evening at the Stade de Suisse when the hosts took a 10th-minute lead through Guillaume Hoarau.
However, Everton were soon looking more than comfortable as they responded emphatically, racing into a 3-1 lead by the interval courtesy of two Lukaku efforts either side of a Seamus Coleman finish.
The visitors had had plenty to deal with at the other end, with Tim Howard producing some excellent saves and Sekou Sanogo’s strike being deflected on to the post by James McCarthy, but they seemed well and truly in the clear just before the hour mark when Lukaku wrapped up his treble with his side’s fourth away goal.
Four minutes later they were reduced to 10 men, John Stones being sent off for holding back Hoarau in the box, but the French striker sent the resulting penalty over the bar and Everton held out from there to maintain their handsome advantage in the tie ahead of next week’s second leg at Goodison Park.
The only other real negatives for Martinez aside from Stones’ dismissal was the sight of both Bryan Oviedo and James McCarthy coming off after suffering injuries, as well as Steven Naismith taking a knock to the knee – but the manager, like the 3,700 Everton fans inside the stadium, will be delighted overall with how things went.
His team made a lively start to the contest, with Lukaku diverting a cross goalwards with his shoulder in the third minute which goalkeeper Yvon Mvogo tipped behind.
Oviedo put a shot into the side-netting soon after, but Young Boys then snatched the lead in the first real moment they showed any attacking threat, somewhat hesitant Everton defending allowing Raphael Nuzzolo to cut the ball back and Hoarau to curl it delightfully past Howard from the edge of the box.
The Toffees looked to hit back quickly and Lukaku’s low shot was saved by Mvogo, who then pushed a Ross Barkley effort around the post.
The away side’s pressure was rewarded in the 24th minute when Gareth Barry crossed from the left and Lukaku held off Steve von Bergen to direct a powerful header into the corner.
Within four minutes, Everton had another as Naismith’s delivery across the face of goal nutmegged Mvogo and was turned in at the far post by Coleman.
Martinez’s team were looking rampant, but Howard was then called into action and pulled off a superb double save to keep out Hoarau’s volley and then smother a follow-up effort from Nuzzolo.
Young Boys continued to look dangerous going forward, but in the 39th minute they conceded again as Everton put together a lovely move, Oviedo back-heeling to Barry and the midfielder’s cross taking a deflection en route to Lukaku, who finished in similar fashion to Coleman.
To their credit, still the home side pressed, with Howard pushing away a Milan Gajic drive and Sanogo then wondering how a combination of McCarthy on the line and the post kept his fierce shot out.
It did not take long for things to get warmed up again after the break, with Lukaku bursting forward and lifting a clinical finish over Mvogo in the 58th minute to take the £28m club record signing’s goal tally for the season to 13.
Once more, Young Boys swiftly rallied and Hoarau won his penalty, with Stones getting his marching orders – but the spot-kick effort was blazed off-target.
The hosts were frustrated in their further attempts to reduce the deficit, while Lukaku might have had further goals before the end.
In the end the Belgium international had to be content with a hat-trick and a deserved standing ovation when he came off with five minutes to go.