There’s a stark reality for Everton Football Club right now. Both the first team and now the Under 23s are in serious danger of being relegated to a lower tier.
Following a very poor run which has seen the young Blues take only three points from a possible fifteen since the end of February, on Friday this week they play their last game of the season against newly crowned champions Manchester City. If they fail to get a point and Leeds win their remaining game and Chelsea get 4 out of their remaining 6 points then Everton will go down to Division 2 of Premier League 2.
Their latest reverse came at home (at Finch Farm) on Monday night, as John Ebbrell’s team suffered a 4-3 loss against a strong West Ham side that have now finished as runners up at this level.
While the “status” element of being relegated at this level will not send the same shock waves that would be associated with the first team suffering that fate, there is no doubt that youngsters competing against the elite at their level will develop more quickly. It might also show if a young player is likely to develop further or not whereas if those games are played against lesser opponents there is a danger of a “false reading”?
Personally I think that is the major factor, just who will we be pitting our skills against?
It’s true that had we kept Ellis Simms and Lewis Warrington perhaps that they may have been the slight difference in quality. Equally, we have to allow players to develop and get as near Everton’s first team as possible.
That, for me, raises one or two questions of our beleaguered management:
- If the likes of Simms and Warrington, both good players, cannot get near one of the poorest first team squads we have seen in recent years then are they ever likely to? Will the experience of playing in the Scottish Premiership or League One actually make those players any more trusted or ready for the Premiership? I won’t even say Championship, not out of denial, but the aim must be to have Premiership quality.
- I am not for one minute suggesting we should have played “over age” players to try to win this Under 23 league like we did in 2017 and 2019. However, there must surely have been some thought given to playing a few players at this level for match practice, to rediscover form or indeed help with recovery from injury? That might have helped the club maintain their Division 1 status for the right reasons.
Premier League 2 rules permit an over age goalkeeper in any event, not that we have needed that as Harry Tyrer especially has really shone. Maybe however, Asmir Begovic or indeed the veteran Andy Lonergan, who has never played a competitive game for Everton, might have needed some practice?
There is a maximum of three over age (born before December 31st 1997) outfield players permitted that could play. Nobody that falls into that category have been used all season (for competitive practice). Vitaliy Mykolenko (who might have initially got benefit from the practice when he wasn’t being selected) and Ben Godfrey (to aid his recovery and rediscover form) are two players who are still within the age range yet neither played any minutes for the Under 23s.
Over age players who have rarely featured such as Anwar El Ghazi, Cenk Tosun or Dele could surely have sharpened their match fitness and first team readiness or regained confidence against younger opposition? There’s a possibility that El Ghazi and others have clauses that state “first team or nothing”, we cannot be sure?
Put simply, it might have helped the first team (by having slightly more match fitness around the squad) and it might have helped the Under 23s secure their Division 1 status before the last few games. I reiterate, the latter point is made purely to assist next season’s youngsters’ development against better opposition.
Monday night’s match itself? Disappointingly, the Blues let slip a two-goal lead, which they had gained courtesy of goals by leading scorers Lewis Dobbin and Tom Cannon. They did regain the lead through Luke Butterfield but then conceded two more goals to lose the match 3-4.
Typical of Everton’s luck (as a club) the winning goal was scored while the Blues were down to ten men. The referee had bizarrely restarted the game having sent defender Ryan Astley to get his ripped shirt replaced and the Hammers took advantage of the situation. Much as coach Ebbrell complained about that poor referee decision you usually find that luck balances itself out over a season unless, of course, you’re on the blue half of Merseyside!
So our hopes are that Leeds and Chelsea counterparts fail to get their required points or.... just maybe we can get a point at Manchester City on Friday night??