Everton's sorry start to the season continued as David Moyes' side crashed out of their second cup competition in the space of eight days. After being dumped out of the Carling Cup last Wednesday by Blackburn Rovers, Everton's Uefa Cup hopes have also now been crushed at the first hurdle by Standard Liège.
A far-post tap-in from Axel Witsel gave the Belgian side the lead last night, and although Phil Jagielka gave Everton hope, Milan Jovanovic grabbed the winner from the penalty spot. Jovanovic had toppled over after a tackle by Leighton Baines.
Everton came into the game requiring a 1-0 victory to progress to the group stages. Defeating Standard would almost certainly have required a clean sheet, something Everton had not achieved for a run of 13 games stretching back into last season.
Moyes, the Everton manager, handed Louis Saha only his second start of the season since his summer move from Manchester United. Saha, however, appeared a player out of sorts as the visitors barely threatened goalkeeper Aragon Espinoza in the opening 45 minutes. One early half-chance saw Saha slip in the area and, with a clear sight of goal, he shot wide.
The moment all Evertonians had been dreading came when a fierce 22-yard drive from Standard's captain Steven Defour swerved through the air, forcing Howard into a fingertip save to his left. The loose ball, though, was swiftly collected by Jovanovic who delivered a looping cross to the far post. With Howard still scrambling to his feet, Witsel was able to sidefoot home from a yard out.
That left Everton needing to score twice. Saha had another half-effort before the break, but again failed to properly connect from 15 yards, giving Espinoza an easy take.
After the anonymous Ayegbeni Yakubu headed a Mikel Arteta cross wide in the 58th minute, Moyes then went for broke four minutes later in bringing on a third striker in Victor Anichebe. The move provided a spark as it was a drive from Anichebe that spun off the clearing head of Witsel which led to the equaliser. From the ensuing corner swung in by Arteta, Espinoza rose unmarked to collect, only to drop the ball at his feet.
Even then he appeared to have time to make amends for his howler, but was reacted slowly, allowing Jagielka to toe-poke home his third career goal for Everton, and first since February.
But 12 minutes from time Baines tangled with Jovanovic inside the area, with the German referee Peter Sippel instantly pointing to the spot. After Baines was booked, Jovanovic made no mistake with the kick.
Moyes later accepted this season had been dismal so far for the club. The manager said: "Who says when you come into football management that every year you're going to have a good year? You know you have to earn your right, you have to play well."
Of his contract, Moyes offered few clues. "There might be a timescale, something might happen," he said. Asked to assure supporters he would stay, he said: "The supporters have known that for a long time."
Standard Liège: Espinoza; Dante, Onyewu, Dalmat, Camozzato, Sarr, Nicaise, Defour, Witsel, Jovanovic, Mbokani. Substitutes not used: Devriendt, Goreux, Toama, Mikulic, Benko, Ingrao, Mangala.
Everton: Howard; Hibbert (Anichebe, 63), Jagielka, Lescott, Baines, Neville (Yobo, 88), Osman, Cahill, Arteta, Yakubu, Saha (Pienaar, 71). Substitutes not used: Nash, Castillo, Nuno Valente, Rodwell.
Referee: P Sippel (Germany).
Years since Everton won their only European trophy.