A very youthful Everton U21 side earned a draw in the home Premier League 2 Cup game at a breezy Southport against their Birmingham City counterparts on Friday. Shorn of regular starters Kyle John, Charlie Whitaker (injured) plus Tom Cannon, Stanley Mills, Isaac Price, Reece Welch and Seb Quirk, all just returned from first team action in Australia, Paul Tait looked to name a team of largely first or second year scholars. He was, however, boosted for the second time recently with the presence of first teamer Ben Godfrey in defence as he makes his way back from serious injury.
Those selection disruptions saw just one regular U21 player, left back Mackenzie Hunt who was captain for the day, keep his place for this game and, for the most part, it showed as the familiar rhythm you associate with Tait’s side was missing. There was plenty of possession with Halid Djankpata, in particular, showing his strength and skills in centre midfield, but there was little to test the visiting goalkeeper. That changed just a minute before half-time as Isaac Heath for Everton found himself in a surprising amount of space and, after some initial hesitation, played a neat ball into the path of powerful centre forward Francis Okoronkwo who finished confidently.
The second half was scrappy in all honesty, not helped by the wind or, in Everton’s case, a few enforced substitutions which further disrupted the balance of the team. After 70 minutes Godfrey’s game was over as he completed a comfortable, if unspectacular, runout in the right centre back berth. Jack Barrett, in Everton’s goal, had made some useful saves to prevent an equaliser and Okoronkwo almost doubled the lead in the 76th minute with a powerful header from substitute Ketia Kouyate’s left wing cross but brought a good save at the other end.
After 78 minutes disaster struck as Blues’ centre back Eli Campbell, who had been booked 5 minutes earlier for a professional pull-back was dispossessed towards Everton’s penalty area and was unable to regain possession from Birmingham forward Pharrell Williams who was happy (sorry I couldn’t resist) to dance through and score in the knowledge that Campbell couldn’t risk a foul and a second yellow card.
So, a disappointing outcome but Paul Tait’s youngsters will have learned a lot from a tough afternoon. Standout performers were Djankpata and Okoronkwo who both look physically strong enough to be at this level regularly, and who knows, even around the first team training squads?