Aside from two brief periods when he took charge of the first team as caretaker manager it is almost eight years since the starting line up for the Everton Under 23s was not selected by the now departed David Unsworth. It was intriguing to see if there would be any personnel or formation changes for the game at Goodison Park on Friday night. The “new” management trio of John Ebbrell, assisted by fellow former players Jose Baxter and Leighton Baines did not disappoint on either score for the game against surprise Premier League 2 strugglers Chelsea. David Unsworth’s side this season with only a handful of exceptions have played a 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 formation.
Lining up in a very clear 4-4-2 structure, the young Blues were captained by first teamer Jarrad Branthwaite and also welcomed back Tyler Onyango into the midfield. Interesting that for the first time, promising winger/ midfielder Stanley Mills was deployed as an orthodox right full back, Rafael Garcia, normally a striker, was deployed on the left of the four-man midfield and on the opposite flank Charlie Whitaker, a promising attacking midfielder or second striker, was given a run at right midfield. It was a markedly different formation and line up for the Toffees.
In a demonstration of things to come, the diminutive Garcia who took to the left midfield berth like a duck to water, turned his man in the 3rd minute and sped down the flank before feeding striker Tom Cannon. His good shot hit the side netting. Defensively the team was working as a unit just as well with Branthwaite who was impressive throughout, making a tremendous block on the edge of the area in the 9th minute as Chelsea briefly threatened.
Two minutes later the Blues were awarded a soft penalty as Lewis Dobbin went down under some slight pressure. The soft award was matched by a well directed but tame effort from Everton’s number 9 Dobbin and the goalkeeper saved, it remained goalless despite the Toffees’ bright start. Midfielder Isaac Price also provided the luckless Dobbin with a chance but the Chelsea keeper saved well this time.
The breakthrough came in the 32nd minute and it was a good goal indeed. Whitaker found the run of Onyango with a lofted ball from the right flank, Onyango carried the ball well and released it as he was about to be challenged, a neat backheel into the path of Cannon who blasted home, 1-0.
On the stroke of half time the advantage was doubled as a mazey run across the penalty area by Mills ended up at the feet of Garcia who, in turn, made room for a pinpoint right footed shot into the bottom corner of the net, 2-0.
In truth, it really was a game of two halves. Chelsea were a different proposition entirely in the second period. Whilst unable to score they dominated possession and it took some very good goalkeeping by Harry Tyrer and smart and brave defending by Branthwaite and left full back Eli Campbell to preserve the lead. Ebbrell did make a tactical change for the last 30 minutes to try to change things, going with a very clear 4-2-3-1 amid a number of substitutions. It ended 2-0 to the Blues.
Overall, it was a very good first half offensively. The second half was easily Chelsea’s more from their greater endeavour rather than a failing on the Blues’ part. The players looked very comfortable with the new formation(s) and it worked well. Impressive performance from the effervescent Garcia who was a complete pain for the Chelsea rearguard, Branthwaite and Tyrer shone and Onyango got through 90 minutes without particularly reaching his previous level of performance just yet. The new era has begun with a welcome 3 points!