LONDON – Romelu Lukaku’s late penalty gave Everton a vital lead to take to Dynamo Kiev after the first leg of their Europa League last-16 tie.
A bad week for English clubs in Europe seemed to be getting worse when Oleg Gusev swept the Ukrainian side ahead.
The home side had started slowly but Lukaku’s brilliant run teed Steven Naismith up to level before the break.
And the striker converted from the spot after Danilo Silva handled in the area to give the Blues a slender lead.
If they can hold it in Ukraine on 19 March, Everton will set up a first European quarter-final in 30 years, an achievement set against the backdrop of a woeful league campaign.
Manager Roberto Martinez has conceded his side – six points above the relegation zone – face the harsh reality of a scrap for league survival but European commitments continue to offer respite.
Lukaku – much maligned for his league form in recent weeks – became the club’s record European goalscorer with seven goals when his penalty squirmed under 40-year-old goalkeeper Oleksandr Shovkovskiy with eight minutes remaining.
The Belgian impressed throughout, completing 86% of his passes and the visitors – who have never won in England – were often stretched by his runs into channels.
Martinez will hope this hard-earned win can provide a platform for just a second league victory of 2015 against Newcastle at Goodison on Sunday, while more optimistic fans may have one eye on a Europa League final appearance in Warsaw on 27 May.
Everton have made light work of sides well positioned in their own domestic leagues in the competition, including German side Wolfsburg and Swiss team Young Boys, but it was not until Lukaku became heavily involved after half an hour that they started to trouble Ukraine’s league leaders.
Gusev’s near-post volley after he lost marker Ross Barkley saw Kiev notch a crucial away goal and only when the sides meet again will it become clear if Everton’s slow start proves decisive over two legs.
It was not until Lukaku shot wide from 40 yards with Shovkovskiy out of his goal did Everton find any momentum and his presence quickly grew in significance.
The 21-year-old saw a powerful volley graze the crossbar and showed strength beyond his years to fend off several challenges before passing for Naismith to curl home from 12 yards.
Everton did not look back and missed chances in the second half as they attacked the Gwladys Street End through Gareth Barry’s miscue from 12 yards and Lukaku’s own blunder from a Naismith flick in the six-yard box.
And their pressure was rewarded late on when substitute Leon Osman crossed against the hand of Silva, to allow Lukaku to net the goal his performance deserved from the spot. – BBC Sport