GOALS either side of the break from Steven Naismith and Leon Osman weren't enough to get Everton's pre-season off to a winning start as the Blues were held by a solid Tranmere Rovers side at Prenton Park on a very hot and humid evening with nearly 9,000 attending.
Goals from Cole Stockton and James Rowe earned Rovers a 2-2 draw against Everton in Tuesday night's pre-season friendly.
Though Everton were dominating in possession at times, the early chances came the way of Tranmere.
The atmosphere in the ground was electric with lots of Blues making the short trip through the tunnel. As the game began they were in great voice for their first pre-season friendly.
Cole Stockton sent the first shot of the game a couple of yards wide of the target after running on to a ball over the defence from Danny Holmes.
Max Powers’s deft layoff to Danny Holmes opened up the Everton defence, but they just couldn’t force it into the path of Elliot Richards who made an excellent run and then a shot way over the bar seconds later much to the dismay of the home fans.
Against the run of play the deadlock was broken on 25 minutes with great work from Garbutt out wide, he beat his man and whipped in a delightful cross with pace and precision leaving Naismith with the most simplest of tap-ins in the six- yard box.
This goal opened the game up as it was cagey and tight with the ball being knocked out about safely on an immaculate pitch at Prenton Park.
The goal settled Everton’s nerve and they started to get the ball down and involve players like Piennar and Mcaleny who began to impress and keep possession.
Max Power, who was impressive and solid throughout, again made inroads into the Everton defence, linking up well with Jake Kirby who played in Elliot Richards, but a timely block by the Everton centre back thwarted the opportunity.
Tranmere started to grow in confidence as the game went on, Danny Woodards and Cole Stockton were standing out with some good touches and Stockton’s turn of pace causing constant problems.
Half-time saw Martinez change every outfield player as midfielder Darron Gibson made his first appearance since suffering a serious knee injury in October last year as Everton stayed out on the pitch for the duration of the break due to the intense heat.
Wholesale changes were made in the second half from both teams, which obviously disrupted the flow of the football.
Manager Rob Edwards had said before kick-off: “It’s perfect timing for us to make changes. Probably the weakest part of our game has been the shape of the team out of possession. So if ever a game is going to make the players concentrate, this is it.”
As the heat started to dictate the pace of play, Stones played a lazy back pass through to Robles which Stockton Cole pounced on and made no mistake with a delicate chip over the onrushing keeper to equalise for the hosts.
With both sides producing speculative efforts and passing the ball about well the game looked to be heading for a draw until Osman restored his side's advantage on 70 minutes with a good solid finish from a Stones’ corner as he tried to make amends for laying on Tranmere’s opener.
Owain Fon Williams pulled off a fine one-handed save to keep out another effort from Osman on 73 minutes, and the keeper saved Darron Gibson's free kick soon after as Everton started to turn the key.
Rovers pulled it back for a second time on 86 minutes. Koumas found Baggie on the right wing and with a fine cross he picked out Rowe, who then turned the ball against the post before knocking in the rebound from close range.
In the final minutes it was all Tranmere as their fitness told and they were able to pass the ball around confidently, but they just couldn’t open up the Everton defence again.
A good solid performance from Rovers and a lot of positives to be taken from the game.
In his post-match interview, Edwards said: “It was great. The players were a little bit slow at expressing themselves, I think they were a bit uptight in the first half.
"They did really well second half and got a couple of goals.
"We worked at playing a certain way and shape because we had to because they've got such good players. Whatever way we decide to play we need to stick to it and the players did that.
"There's enough ability in the dressing room for the league we're playing in.
“Yes, we conceded two sloppy goals, but if they buy into what we want to do there's enough ability and I think we'll be a good team. It was a good night for us.
Walking away from the ground you could hear and feel the excitement of the Tranmere fans; expectations perhaps raised after last season’s disastrous finish and hopes of a return to the standard of football the Tranmere faithful want to watch.
Chairman Peter Johnson reiterated this in his programme notes: “In Rob Edwards we have appointed a bright, ambitious young manager who is extremely keen to bring success to the cub and our supporters, we have a talented young squad and I’m sure Rob will be able to get the best out of them.”
NEXT GAME AT PRENTON PARK: Tranmere Rovers versus Bolton Wanderers pre-season friendly, this Friday, July 25. Kick-off 7.30pm.