Two hours ahead of the Everton first team’s game at Goodison Park on Sunday, 15 miles northwards at Southport’s ground, just 80 lucky supporters attended a match in unpredictable weather that confirmed the progress being made at Under 21 level.
Paul Tait’s young men are developing into a very consistent unit indeed, this victory taking them to fourth in the Premier League 2, Division 1 table. Whilst we all acknowledge that the stated academy aim is to bring young players through to the first team, it does help if they bring a winning habit along with their youthful exuberance!
An attacking line up saw the introduction of highly rated left winger/striker Francis Okoronkwo into a side that, otherwise, pretty much selects itself. The selection that Paul Tait makes usually sees players performing in the positions in which they could potentially and naturally excel. If that sounds a very obvious ploy then you haven’t watched much of the Under 23s in recent seasons! Gone are the days of leaning heavily on some of the older players in the age group 22 to 23, this is a youthful squad with only defenders Kyle John and Joe Anderson at 21 providing any significant experience at this level.
The opposition at the seaside town of Southport on Sunday were Brighton and Hove Albion (the Seagulls) and the Blues got off to a good start with Tom Cannon typically involved in goalmouth action.
Unusually, it was a day when the talented striker did not find the net despite a variety of audacious efforts including a scorpion kick, which we have seen from him before, an overhead kick as well as a trademark thunderous volley. It just didn’t happen but you always get the impression it is just a matter of time for Cannon to successfully pull the trigger.
The actual goal which did earn the Toffees the 3 points did indeed see heavy involvement from Cannon. He took the ball down the right flank having been fed by the impressive Stan Mills before picking a good pass back inside to the versatile youngster who had made ground and secured himself some space on the edge of the penalty area.
Mills’ trusty right foot did the rest. What was impressive about the move was not just the goal and the assist but also the fact that the Blues had 3 players (goalscorer Mills, Okoronkwo and Charlie Whitaker) getting to the box at breakneck speed all hungry to get on the scoresheet.
It had not been all one-way traffic as Brighton did hit the crossbar but there’s something about the way Tait is getting the best out of his players, patient build up or fast counter attacking is getting the required results. There’s variety and imagination, a togetherness. They create chances and on another day the margins will be bigger than one goal, this match should certainly have seen a more emphatic scoreline.
With the international break now upon us the young Blues will not play till Friday 30th September but there’s a bit of an expectancy now where before there was just hope. Keep up the good work!