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Young Blues step into contention in Everton’s friendly against Arsenal

A number of the second half subs emerge with enormous credit

Everton Pre-Season Training Match
Stanley Mills (2nd from left) and Lewis Warrington (right) training with Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Isaac Price (left)
Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

You’d be forgiven on Saturday evening in Baltimore for thinking that Everton’s frst half display had simply carried on from where they left off in May when they were put to the sword by Arsenal in a 5-1 drubbing at the Emirates. There was a gulf in class, possession and style between the two sides in the first 45 minutes. Understandable to a degree because of the different stages the two clubs are at in their preparation for the forthcoming season in the Premiership.

For Arsenal this was their third game of the pre-season, for Everton it was their first. Gruelling training sessions designed to bring players towards peak fitness will leave them ‘leggy’ even though the mind is getting sharper. To be fair there was visible effort, just a lack of belief maybe exemplified by two familiar lapses for the goals and also a horrible pass across his own area by Mason Holgate. It just wasn’t pleasant to watch nor did it give any encouragement for the season ahead.

The second half saw a complete team change and the effect was instant. The senior professionals like Alex Iwobi, Salomon Rondon, Michael Keane and new boy James Tarkoswki gave a solid look to the team ably assisted by the excellent Anthony Gordon and Vitaliy Mykolenko.

It’s the performance of the Under 21 players that took my attention however. Playing against senior professionals in a quality team they looked far from out of place, indeed they played with far more success than their more senior colleagues from the first half showing.

Arsenal v Everton - Pre-Season friendly Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

Billy Crellin, goalkeeper

To be honest with you, even though I take a very great interest in the Under 21 and 18 sides I have seen little of Billy Crellin as he rarely played after his January deadline day signing because of the form of Harry Tyrer so aside from watching old YouTube footage of him playing for Fleetwood Town he was new to me.

What impressed me most of all was his awareness and the fact that he was always on his toes, quick to anticipate danger from a few loose back-passes and looking like a calming influence. Only 1 fairly routine shot to deal with that he handled comfortably and he judged a cross going out of play perfectly. In summary, not much to do but he did everything well Rating 7/10

Arsenal v Everton - Pre-Season friendly Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

Reece Welch, central defender

Reece Welch will be familiar to those who follow the U21s as he was a regular throughout 2021/22 and indeed showed real signs of knocking on the first team door. With the loan departure of Jarrad Branthwaite and his performance in Baltimore the knocking is likely to get louder!

Welch, still only 18 years old, played on the left side of a back 3 for the first time in the dozens of games I have seen him in so it was a bit of a departure for him. If anything he normally plays right in a trio of centre backs. Predominantly right footed he coped very well, distribution down the line towards Mykolenko and Gordon was accurate and he played everything else very safe. Against some good opposition I thought his positioning was very good and, as I have seen many times for the U21s, he makes good interceptions and reads the game well. No sign of being out of his depth at this level

Rating 7/10

Arsenal v Everton - Pre-Season friendly Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

Lewis Warrington, central midfield

I’ve seen lots of Lewis Warrington, last season and indeed 2020/2021 he had developed into the mainstay of Everton U21s’ midfield. Likened to Allan in his style by many, he was playing a clear defensive midfield role prior to his move to Tranmere Rovers in January 2022. During that stay he was used positionally more where he played when I first saw him 3 years ago, a central midfielder, almost box to box. I know he’d often been talked about as the next Ross Barkley in club circles.

Playing along side Jean-Phillip Gbamin but aided and abetted by both Iwobi and Gordon tucking into almost a 6 man midfield, Warrington looked comfortable. To say this was his first appearance in a first team shirt he did remarkably well. His willingness to show for the ball, receive it in tight situations, turn in possession or lay it off accurately are traits that the 19 year old has brought from the U21s. To have the confidence to do it at a higher level speaks volumes. He passed well and barely put a foot wrong, putting a few tasty physical challenges in along he way. Put it this way, Warrington will not be fazed whoever he plays against. Promising!

Rating 8/10

Arsenal v Everton - Pre-Season friendly Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

Stanley Mills, right wing back

Although we can be very pleased with the promise shown by Crellin, Welch and Warrington, star billing in my opinion went to the son of former England international right back Danny Mills, our own 18 year old Stanley Mills. I first saw Stan playing right wing for the under 18s and was impressed with his direct wing play, pace and crossing ability. Over the last season and a half he has played also as a central midfield player (in a central 3) and the position we saw him in on Saturday, right wing back. He has an eye for goal too, scoring 6 times last season.

He has played relatively few games at right wing back but he slotted in perfectly just ahead of the experienced James Tarkowski. He displayed not only a fine turn of pace which clearly took the Arsenal defence by surprise but also his marking was much tighter than Nathan Patterson had managed in the first half. Not a huge criticism of the promising young Scotsman who has a good future but Mills got on the ball more and made things happen. He took the game opportunity and made sure he is in the manager’s thoughts for selection. He put a few good challenges in, handled himself well following the unnecessary skirmish caused by Arsenal’s ‘precious’ Pepe and stepped to one side to allow his warhorse colleague Tarkowski to teach the Arsenal man some manners. On this display and with Patterson and club veteran Seamus Coleman we are suddenly well stocked at right wing back

Rating 9/10

I was clearly not alone in endorsing the displays by the young quartet so there is hope of seeing them play again soon. The words of Frank Lampard:

“The young players’ attitude is great, Stanley Mills is on the trip because he trained so well last season and in the first week of pre-season at Finch Farm. He is here because he deserves to be and he showed that in his game.

“The confidence of Lewis Warrington to accept the ball in midfield and play and move it [was pleasing], it’s simple stuff but something we’ve not done so well since I’ve been here.

“Reece looked really comfortable and Billy got a clean sheet for his half.”

Next opportunity for these boys is against Minnesota United on Wednesday night. Do yourselves proud again lads!