If you had the blues from watching the Blues first team recently then there was a 45-minute tonic on Monday night at Goodison Park as Everton Under 23s went up against the Brighton and Hove Albion Under 23s.
It certainly lifted the spirits on a bitterly cold night on Merseyside. David Unsworth’s side was boosted by the inclusion of Ellis Simms, Jarrad Branthwaite and new Premier League debutant Tyler Onyango. Their inclusion meant a few positional changes for some of the team who themselves have been through some difficult times at Under 23 level. Skipper Ryan Astley switched from the centre to his old right back berth, Kyle John from right back to left and perhaps most tellingly, Lewis Dobbin from striker to wide right. Dobbin had played a few games recently on the left but it would not be an exaggeration to say he absolutely terrorised the Brighton defence in the first half under the watchful eyes of first team coach Duncan Ferguson and Director of Football, Marcel Brands.
Perhaps it was a sign of how keen the young Blues were to impress the watching senior men that three bookings were received in the first period, all for heavy challenges. Isaac Price then Onyango and lastly Branthwaite’s industrial clattering of a Brighton player was perhaps lucky to be just yellow.
The first half was the best 45 minutes the U23s have played this term. After Lewis Warrington had stung the gloves of the visiting keeper and Astley had seen his header crash off the underside of the bar, we saw Dobbin at his best. He had looked fired up and very fit from the start and in the 20th minute he cut in past his full back from the right wing and superbly slotted a right footed shot into the far corner. The Toffees doubled the lead in the 29th minute with a well judged header by Reece Welch from Rhys Hughes’ corner. The only rare threat on the Blues goal came when John found himself in the right place to head off the line following a corner.
The second half was a different story altogether. Perhaps with one eye on next week’s first team fixture, Simms and Branthwaite were withdrawn and Brighton’s halftime team talk must have warmed the ears of their players. As much as we had seen some great football by the Blues in the first half, Brighton, who were 4th place in the Premier League 2, dominated the second period, hitting the woodwork twice. Their man of the match, a 17 year old called Evan Ferguson batted aside a few challenges on the edge of the area before unleashing an unstoppable shot into the top corner to make it a nervy last 12 minutes. Everton’s coach Duncan Ferguson, in his playing days, would have been proud of the goal by his namesake. Everton did hold out for a 2-1 victory and a welcome three points courtesy of some solid stops by goalkeeper Harry Tyrer and some good defending by Astley and John especially.
Overall, for Everton, nobody had a bad game. Even though he did not get a clear goalscoring opportunity, Simms did very well with his hold up play, touch, control and leading the line. Little signs of rust following six months away from competitive football and he must surely be in Rafa Benitez’s thoughts. Astley did especially well at right back which must give some food for thought again as Seamus Coleman certainly cannot play all season.
Branthwaite had looked for the most part the accomplished and polished defender we have seen glimpses of, playing the ball out magnificently from the back although it must be said that his yellow card tackle was more like a steamroller than a Rolls Royce. Last word goes to Lewis Dobbin however. He had played right side of the attack in his younger days and in the first half especially he was superb, a man of the match performance and a confidence boost for him and his team-mates.
As a footnote on the youth front, there was nothing really to report from the Under 18s’ visit to Nottingham Forest on Saturday. Their match was abandoned at 0-0 in the second half due to lack of available ambulance/ medical cover following a bad injury in the concurrent Under 16s’ game between the two sides.