Coleman makes seamless return in Everton win
Everton 2 Leicester 1
His last game in front of a packed stadium ended with the assistance of a stretcher and an oxygen mask, with the sombre silence a preparation for the loneliness of the long road ahead.
But at five past eight on a chilly Liverpool night, Seamus Coleman really became a footballer again. The first trademark lung-bursting run left his opponents gasping for air, with a rushed Leicester clearance leading to a corner-kick.
From the stands, there was familiar acclaim. The Ireland captain's comeback was complete.
After ten months and one week on the sidelines, it may not have felt ahead of schedule. For the 29-year-old, it has been an agonising wait. But the break of a fibia and tibula has condemned other pros to longer absences.
This classy and composed display suggested he will come back as good as before. In injury-time, he made a vital interception and break to close out a 2-1 success. Everton - and Ireland - have missed him.
When Coleman was struck down by Neil Taylor's lunge, he was back in the kind of form that was inevitably going to bring transfer speculation. Ireland were firmly in control of their World Cup destiny, top of a group where they had benefited from his inspirational presence. It is perhaps fitting that he made his first team return on an evening that shines a light on the fickle nature of his business.
Leicester came to Goodison Park without Riyad Mahrez, the centre of deadline-day drama, who had annoyed team-mates by the manner with which he had agitated for a move.
There have been times in Coleman's Everton stay where he could have activated that attitude in response to murmurs of interest from clubs higher up the food chain. Manchester United were keen at one point.
But that was never going to be his way of doing business and, in his darkest hour, Everton repaid that loyalty. Last May, they provided a welcome morale boost in the form of a new five-year contract. They have been good for each other, and it's likely he will spend the rest of his career here.
Flags featuring his image had been placed under seats earlier in the day but, in the end, the Goodison regulars went for a no-nonsense warm welcome back which suited the character.
Coleman's name was given the loudest cheer when the teams were called. He touched the turf and blessed himself as he emerged from the tunnel, applauded the fans and then got down to business.
Sam Allardyce was clearly keen to get him back involved straight away, satisfied that his displays in training and 60 minutes for the U-23 side last week was enough prep. "He reminds me of the dedication that's needed at all levels," he said. "When I've seen him, he's never been that miserable, he's not been moping around - all he's been enquiring about is, 'What can I do to get fit? What more can I do?'"
Much has changed around his workplace since that fateful night last March. Ronald Koeman was his club manager then. Wayne Rooney was at Manchester United. Theo Walcott at Arsenal. Romelu Lukaku was the focal point of Everton attacks.
Allardyce might just be steering the ship until the end of the season, and he was under some pressure coming into this game. He needed a victory that was shaping up to be routine after Walcott's first-half brace.
In the end, as the rain poured down, the Toffees were hanging on with Wayne Rooney conceding a penalty that Jamie Vardy converted and goal-line clearances required to eke out the success. Coleman's assurance was a big part of it, although he was afforded sympathy in the early minutes when a couple of passes were misplaced. Errors from others were met with audible grumbles.
But as Coleman grew into the game, so did Everton. Pressure further up the park led to Walcott breaking the deadlock. In response, the crowd sang about a player who actually had no role in the opener. "60 grand, 60 grand, Seamus Coleman," is the popular chant, a reminder of the lotto ticket that Sligo Rovers dispensed with for a settlement.
His new right-sided partner will be £20m man Walcott, and they will form a potent combination, with the Irishman overlapping well before fault lines elsewhere added unnecessary stress. The focus then shifted to the bread and butter of defending and he did his bit to end the comeback in good spirits.
The programme cover featured James McCarthy who is now recovering after an operation on a frighteningly similar injury. Coleman says his purpose now is to return to peak form and show his best friend it can be done.
So far, so good.