Everton Under-21s kick off their new season today Friday 5th August against their Blackburn Rovers counterparts, with Paul Tait’s young charges looking refreshed and ready to dominate.
Their final pre-season game was against National League North team Southport last Saturday at Haig Avenue and they convincingly trounced the Sandgrounders 4-0 courtesy of a hat-trick from rising star Stan Mills and a further goal by striker Tom Cannon.
For the coming season, aside from Tait taking charge of the team ably assisted by Keith Southern, there are some inevitable changes of personnel in the squad but way fewer than the turnover of recent seasons. Such a high turnover 12 months ago was partly responsible for the downturn in results as young players who were just 18 or younger had to step up against older and physically stronger opponents. That will be less of an issue this year.
As Paul Tait has already said, it’s about getting players ready for first team football, not about the results though show me a manager that’s happy after losing!
Regular players who have gone from last season include midfielder Rhys Hughes (now Tranmere Rovers), forward Rafa Garcia (released, no club as yet), goalkeeper Harry Tyrer (loaned to Chester), Ellis Simms (loaned to Sunderland), skipper and centre back Ryan Astley (loaned to Accrington Stanley), midfielder Tyler Onyango (loaned to Burton Albion) and forward Lewis Dobbin (loaned to Derby County).
At the time of writing it is expected that the likes of 21 year old players Kyle John and Joe Anderson will be moved temporarily as well. Although eligible as one of 5 permitted over-age players, striker Nathan Broadhead is certain to move on with Sunderland heavily linked. Still a big turnover, but not as damaging as the previous year.
So, looking ahead who should we expect to play?
Players who are now on the definite fringe of first team squad like Stanley Mills, Lewis Warrington, Isaac Price, Reece Welch and goalkeeper Billy Crellin are bound to feature heavily for match practice if they themselves do not go out on loan.
Along with them, it is expected that the following players will be regulars. Experienced Under 21 players such as striker Tom Cannon, defender Eli Campbell, and box to box Norwegian midfielder Einar Iversen who is set to return after losing nearly 18 months through injury.
Six players who had been destined for the exit door under previous manager David Unsworth will also feature to some degree namely, midfielders Mackenzie Hunt, Sean McAllister, Liam Higgins, goalkeeper Zan-Luk Leban and defenders Seb Quirk and Matthew Mallon.
My own tips for a breakthrough season potentially to first team fringe level, if they work their socks off of course, include attacking midfielder Charlie Whitaker, defensive midfielder Luke Butterfield, right wing back Roman Dixon and striker/ winger Francis Okoronkwo.
I expect, especially given the wealth of defenders available that Paul Tait will mirror the first team playing formations so largely a 3-4-3 or 3-5-2. Getting players used to being in those formations will definitely aid their transition. I am also expecting a much higher finish in the league this term, there’s some exciting talent in that squad, the youngsters from 2021 are a year older and battle hardened.
Good luck lads!