David Unsworth’s Everton Under-21 side headed north east to League Two mid-table side Hartlepool United on Tuesday evening in the knowledge that only a win would guarantee progress to the 32-team knockout stage of the Papa John’s Football League Trophy.
Early on the young Blues noticeably found the pace and physicality tougher than with their usual Under 23 counterparts, less time on the ball meant a few passes were going astray. Without troubling the home goalkeeper at all until a Rhys Hughes shot in the 27th minute, the Toffees largely kept their older and more experienced opponents at bay. If ever there was a breakthrough, man of the match Harry Tyrer was equal to the task in the Blues goal. One of the main difficulties was that Hartlepool were playing with a high press resulting in a number of long balls to lone striker Tom Cannon who was isolated and getting no joy against a physical home rearguard.
Manager Unsworth made a significant change for the second half introducing winger Stanley Mills for Cannon and pushing Lewis Dobbin central. The extra width did help in getting behind the home defence but clear cut opportunities for the Blues playing their patient passing style were still limited.
It was somewhat ironic that, after trying to play out from the back all the game, the best opportunity so far came on the hour mark when Tyrer launched a rare throw to the half way line. This was controlled and played forward first time by Hughes to substitute Mills running clear. His nice lob beat the goalkeeper but sadly crashed off the crossbar to safety.
Just as it looked as though penalties might well decide the contest Hartlepool got the breakthrough in the 70th minute when good control by the home forward Day saw him edge past 3 defenders in a crowded penalty area to rifle home.
More stoic defending and good goalkeeping by Tyrer kept the score down to 1-0 and they almost pulled level through a great 25 yard strike from Hughes which the goalkeeper just got a touch to. It would not have been an injustice to take the match to penalties.
So Everton bow out but the young players will have learned a lot by playing against experienced professionals in front of quite a noisy crowd around 2000-strong. They defended well with the bonus of promising midfielder Tyler Onyango getting a full 90 minutes in his return to full fitness. Next up is a home game in Premier League 2 against Manchester City.