EVERTON U21s ON TOP FORM

Chris Brunskill

EVERTON YOUNGSTERS TAKE SIX POINTS FROM TWO GAMES

Everton U21s are currently four games unbeaten and have won three of the last four after wins in their previous two games against Chelsea and Blackburn U21s. Firstly, the Everton young guns played Chelsea U21s at Goodison Park and staged an impressive comeback from 2-0 down to win 3-2. A week later the youngsters made the short journey to Blackburn’s Ewood Park to again take away the three points with a 1-2 victory.

On September 23rd, the Everton youngsters faced a tough game at Goodison against Chelsea U21s; a week after the senior side had managed to beat Chelsea at the same venue. The game got off to a bad start though for the Blues when Ruben Loftus-Cheek struck from close range passed the incoming Mason Springthorpe for the injured Mateusz Taudul, on three minutes.

It got worse for the Toffees soon after in the 15th minute when the impressive John Swift struck from 25 yards into Springthorpe’s top left hand corner, after not being closed down. Nine minutes later Everton’s first meaningful opening in the match came through the Scot, Mattthew Kennedy who burst through the Chelsea defence and was through on goal although he was denied by a perfect last-ditch tackle from Nathan Ake. The inaugural Everton shot came in the 27th minute when Chris Long fired on goal from the edge of the box with Jamal Blackman having to save to keep it 2-0 to the visitors.

Just before the interval, chances similar to each other at each end came through; first Matthew Pennington through a corner from Conor Grant for Everton and then Isaiah Brown for Chelsea heading over. Brown then had the first chance after the break, bending his shot wide of the Everton goal. On the 52nd minute Hallam Hope was in the right place at the right time to pounce on Blackman’s save following Matthew Pennington’s header on-goal from an incoming free-kick.

All the momentum was with Everton’s young guns from then on and after a couple of good pieces of play from the Blues it was Chelsea who presented Everton with the chance to go level. After good pressure on the Chelsea defence the ball went back to Blackman and also under pressure, sliced his kick to Hope who dispatched into the almost empty net from 20 yards out. Hope nearly secured his hat trick moments later but Blackman got down well to redeem himself and save.

Substitute Courtney Duffus made an immediate impact in finishing off Everton’s fine comeback with first a shot blocked and then winning a penalty from a rash last-ditch tackle from the Chelsea goalkeeper in the area. John Lundstram had the responsibility of scoring Everton’s winner but found the colossal figure of Jamal Blackman in the Chelsea goal; however the ball found its way to Chris Long who followed up and struck the ball home to give the Goodison crowd a night similar to those the senior team have produced in the not so recent past.

Everton U21s: Springthorpe, Pennington, Browning, Kenny, Touray, Kennedy (91st Green), Lundstram, Grant, Ledson (67th Duffus), Hope and Long (89th Jones).

Unused substitutes: Griffiths and McLaughlin.

Chelsea U21s: Blackman, Ssewankambo, Christensen, Ake, Nditi (87th Davey), Clifford, Kiwomya, Loftus-Cheek (73rd Palmer), Feruz, Swift and Brown (80th Solanke).

Unused Substitutes: Beeney and Conroy.

Onto a fortnight later when the young Blues travelled to Ewood Park to face a struggling Blackburn under 21 side. Alan Stubbs made four changes from the side that defeated Chelsea including bringing in the returning Tony Hibbert. Hibbert, looking to regain his fitness after missing most of the second half of last season found himself playing with teenagers who have probably looked up to the 32 year-old after a humbling twelve seasons as an Everton first team player. No doubt Stubbs would have relished managing his former teammate and with having no Tyias Browning or Matthew Pennington the Everton legend slotted in nicely to the Everton U21s’ back four.

The first half was controlled by the young Toffees in possession but neither teams constructed meaningful openings on goal. In fact the only two significant chances for the visitors fell to George Green and Conor Grant. Firstly, Green hit the side-netting of the Blackburn goal with a free-kick and then Grant showed a sign of things to come with a strike from distance although finding the palms of the Blackburn goalkeeper this time. While for the hosts Dean Rittenberg struck the crossbar before the break.

Hallam Hope was brought down in the area soon after halftime and got up to take the penalty. However the scoring form he showed in the previous fixture didn’t materialise in this instance as Rovers’ keeper David Raya Martin saved from the England youth international. It didn’t take long for the Blues to take the lead after that when in the 57th minute Grant struck a fierce left-foot shot into the top of Raya Martin’s net.

The lead didn’t last long though and Rovers found themselves back into the game when Darragh Lenihan bundled home after Everton failed to clear to equalise. With this underserved stalemate, Everton again showed the character of the young side and looked to push for all three points.

Chris Long was presented with a chance but struck a side-foot effort wide and it looked like the Blues would have to share the spoils. That was until a corner from the Toffees presented two chances that were cleared off the line but not far enough as the oncoming Ibou Touray bundled home to deservedly steal the victory for Alan Stubbs’ side. A goal from the unlikely source of the left-back sparked mass celebrations and ecstasy reminiscent of a game of the highest level.

That victory leaves Stubbs’ side in fifth in the U21 league and next for the young Toffees is another home game at Goodison Park against Manchester United at 7pm on Monday and all fans can attend the game completely free of charge.

Everton U21s: Griffiths, McLaughlin, Hibbert, Kenny, Touray, Lundstram, Ledson (76th Jones), Grant, Green, Hope and Long.

Blackburn U21s: Raya Martin, Henley (63rd Henley), Bauress, Daly, Songo’o, Tumwa, Molina, O’Sullivan (29th Green), Rittenberg, Lenihan and Hanley.

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