Everton Under 23s slipped into the bottom two in their division of Premier League 2 after their latest 3-1 reverse against West Ham this last weekend. It will be of little comfort that they are surprisingly joined in the bottom four clubs by both Chelsea and Liverpool who are both only a point better off.
To look at some of the possible reasons why the young Blues find themselves in this position we can observe a considerable injury list of significant players at this level. In particular, impressive goalkeeper Harry Tyrer who spent time with the first team under Carlo Ancelotti, influential tall midfielder Tyler Onyango who suffered a nasty ankle injury in April and is yet to reappear and his partner for much of last season the young Norwegian Einar Iversen, similarly still in recovery. Young right back Kyle John has also only recently returned from injury.
If you add to that list the departure of more experienced players who have recently moved on from the Under 23 set up either permanently or temporarily such as Joao Virginia, Nathan Broadhead, Beni Baningime, Niels Nkounkou, Thierry Small, Lewis Gibson, Con Ouzinidis and Josh Bowler you begin to understand the enormity of the turnover.
This year, with the club’s well known financial difficulties meaning that investment in players for David Unsworth’s under 23s was virtually impossible, we have effectively seen the rapid promotion of many Under 18 players, some of them only having started at the younger level last season. For their development it is of course good to see them pitched against older players at other clubs, but it is perhaps to be expected that good results will not come automatically.
What the team appear to have missed most of all is the firepower that they have enjoyed in the previous seasons with 20 year old Ellis Simms in particular having been prolific. The team this season has scored just seven goals in seven games while conceding 15.
The current squad deploys either Lewis Dobbin, Charlie Whitaker, Tom Cannon or Rafa Gracia or any combination of those players up front. None of them have the physique that helped Simms in being able to brush off centre backs and force his way into goalscoring positions. They are all very promising but just not the same as Simms, all would benefit from playing alongside a more burly centre forward figure.
It’s unclear when Ellis Simms, who would undoubtedly add that constant goal threat, will return to the Under 23s set up. He has been with the first team since returning from his long-term injury, though is yet to get any minutes as he recovers full fitness. Should Everton’s injury issues abate then he could possibly return to Unsworth’s side. but if he’s not involved with Rafa Benitez’s first team then he will surely be snapped up on loan by a Championship side in January. Blackpool, who sit nicely mid-table in the Championship, will certainly be interested. He scored a healthy eight goals in 21 appearances for them in the second half of last season, is known to the fans and the team (four other ex-Toffees feature regularly). The manager, ex-Liverpool under 23 coach Neil Critchley, is also a big fan having given him his chance in January this year.
There have been some promising individual displays this season by Unsworth’s team in spite of the results. We have seen, amongst others, the emergence of Charlie Whitaker, Sean McAllister and Eli Campbell who is becoming more assured after his switch from centre back to left back. Indeed we have seen Lewis Dobbin get some minutes with the first XI and Whitaker and young Slovenian goalkeeper Zan Luk Leban also being called up to the bench.
So what can we expect for the remaining games of 2021? One would imagine that as first teamers such as Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison return then Simms might be available for game time to get match fit in time for the next stage of his development. Goals would hopefully follow him around as they have done for the last few years.
One would hope also to see the likes of Onyango return soon. The midfielder looked a man amongst boys last season, and it was no surprise that he was being mentioned as the next youngster to breakthrough into the senior side. Just those two additions might be enough of a boost to help the burden on younger players.
One admirable quality is that the young players have rarely let their heads drop despite the poor run of results. The future for these young men is still a bright Blue one.