Everton got their FA Youth Cup campaign well and truly underway on Friday night as they defeated their Reading counterparts 3-0 in the rain and under the floodlights at Goodison Park.
The young Blues, managed by club legend Leighton Baines, played in a very mobile 4-3-3 formation. Matty Apter and Halid Djankpata in midfield were pressing slightly further forward than young Irishman Jack Patterson in more of a holding position, lots of energy and movement.
There was a glimpse of things to come in the 7th minute when a great inswinging corner kick by #7 Owen Barker was met powerfully by the head of Francis Okoronkwo and the Reading ‘keeper made a smart save low to his left.
The first goal of the evening duly arrived after 22 minutes and it was all about the delivery of the ball from midway inside the Reading half by Barker into the path of Okoronkwo. Interestingly, immediately before the free-kick was taken the two players had a little chat about what to do and it clearly paid off. The Blues powerful #9 finished comfortably with his right foot after losing his marker. 1-0.
Everton’s second goal of the evening arrived after 27 minutes and it was from another expertly delivered inswinging dead-ball from Barker. Midfielder and skipper Halid Djankpata, fresh from some recent experience with the Under 21s, timed his run perfectly to meet the corner-kick and place his header firmly into the net at the near post. The delivery and finish were both top class!
The Toffees continued to have the lion’s share of play and after 61 minutes Okoronkwo dragged his shot agonisingly wide after a good through ball by Apter.
There was not long to wait however as, 5 minutes later, left back Jack Butler played a long clearance to Okoronkwo who did well to hold off the attentions of two defenders before he laid a neat backheel into the path of Barker. Running from deep he let his cultured left foot do the rest with a perfect low finish beyond the despairing dive of the Royals’ goalkeeper. It was a great reward for being the architect of the first two goals of the night. For those with long memories, that left foot might just remind you of a certain Blues’ legend from the ‘80s, a Welshman who played for Ireland and graced Goodison Park for many years! I’ll leave the comparison there as I wouldn’t want him to be burdened with that pressure but we could all use a bit of that Sheedy magic!
Dangerman Okoronkwo stretched for a header from an Apter cross 5 minutes later but it went narrowly wide and the score remained 3-0.
A really encouraging start for the campaign ahead and a really good team display with the icing on the cake perhaps provided by the irrepressible Apter and the left foot and intelligence of Barker. This looks a proper team playing football the Everton way in the fashion of their manager.
Baines’ assistant manager Kieran Driscoll said this after the game speaking to evertonfc.com:
“It wasn’t a perfect performance, we are always striving to get to that, but there were some really big positives that we can take from the game. The first 20 minutes or so were a bit scrappy, it was obviously a different experience for the lads playing at Goodison Park and naturally that was going to bring a bit of nervousness in the opening part of the game.
“But the first goal came at the right time and settled us down. We imposed our style a lot more from there.
“We spoke about managing the game at half-time, there were some areas that we could improve on but overall we are pleased with the performance and progression into the next round. It wouldn’t be fair to point out just one player out, I thought it was a good team performance today,”
The next round of the competition will see the youngsters on their travels in January to either Lincoln City or Watford. Good luck lads!