A month and a half into the new season for Paul Tait’s Everton Under 21s, I’m taking a look back at the progress made and changes we have seen. I have compared that, at least results-wise, to the last season of David Unsworth at the same stage. For comparison purposes I have looked solely at Premier League 2 fixtures rather than any other competitions or friendlies.
The young Blues currently sit in 4th place in the Premier League 2 table, just one point off a three-way tie at the top between Crystal Palace, Arsenal and Manchester City.
Perhaps the most telling statistic around Tait’s squad compared to Unsworth’s is the improvement in the number of goals conceded and why that might be. You don’t have to be the world’s greatest mathematician to see that Tait’s team concede less than a goal a match whereas Unsworth’s deficit was an unhealthy two.
In very simple terms after 6 games of the season this is the stark comparison:
Tait vs Unsworth comparison
Tait’s team has been a fairly consistent line up of a fluid 4-4-1-1 (sometimes 4-5-1, occasionally 4-3-3, I’ve even seen 4-2-3-1 recently) so much so that 10 of the 11 starting players have played nearly all of the games. It’s a long time since you have been able to predict a team but this team can almost be named as:
Leban; John, Welch, Anderson, Hunt; Quirk, Price, McAllister and 1 other (variable); Whitaker, Cannon
Perhaps a name you might have expected to see there is Stanley Mills, the promising and versatile right winger / midfielder / wing-back, but he has been very much involved with Frank Lampard’s senior training sessions thus far and has only played one league game at Under-21 level (he scored of course).
Who’s gone and who’s come in?
As we know, a few players in and around the fringes of the first team like Lewis Warrington, Ellis Simms, Tyler Onyango and Lewis Dobbin have gone out on loan this season. Regulars for the Unsworth era Rhys Hughes and Rafa Garcia also left the club permanently whilst the outward loans of Joao Virginia and Harry Tyrer have given Slovenian Under 21 international Zan-Luk Leban the opportunity to stake a claim.
Besides Leban, this season is seeing a regular place for Seb Quirk and Mackenzie Hunt both fringe players under Unsworth but most of the others were in and around the starting line up lasts eason. Making more of an impact this season.
Breaking through to the starting line up this year also we have seen the likes of forwards Francis Okoronkwo and Katia Kouyate as well as full back Matthew Mallon.
Goalscorers this season have been the prolific Tom Cannon with 4 and one apiece for Stan Mills, Isaac Price and Halid Djankpata, with an own goal making up our 9 goals for the season. Cannon’s haul of 4 goals in 4 starts in this league is phenomenal.
You simply have to say Tom Cannon for the goals, some of them spectacular, but he is not a one man band at all. Also impressing consistently, in my view, have been Mackenzie Hunt, a former bit-part winger under David Unsworth, who has cemented the left full back role and thrown in the occasional worldy of a goal. Zan-Luk Leban has impressed in goal and attacking midfielder Charlie Whitaker has found his spark again after tailing off towards the end of last season. Kyle John and Joe Anderson have been very steady in defence too. Nobody has been playing badly, they look like a team that works for each other in the Toffees’ great traditional manner.
In summary, an impressive start for Paul Tait and the players he has brought through from his years in charge of the Under 18s. They clearly trust him, want to play for him, are being used in positions in which they may make a breakthrough to the first team squad. They’re playing in a settled formation and collectively learning together just as they did a season or two ago when they were 16 or 17 under the same manager. Although the Premier League 2 do permit playing up to 5 “over 21” players plus an over-age goalkeeper, this regime seem determined not to do that. No reliance on “old heads” like some of the teams that, whilst they won Under 23 league titles a few seasons ago, possibly stifled the development of younger talent. Of the current regular line up, only defenders Kyle John and Joe Anderson are 21, the rest are younger.
I guess there remain a few questions around the developmental benefits of retaining Tom Cannon, Reece Welch and Stan Mills at this level rather than sending them on loan to get experience. It’s a key call to send them to a lower division club, a town or city where they may not know anybody and be surrounded by hardened professionals who maybe see them as a threat as much as a team-mate. It’s easy to forget that they’re just 18 or 19 years old. The difference I would suggest is that I, for one, am beginning to trust the judgement of the current management in such matters. The academy structure has been reshaped there have been significant appointments made like James Vaughan as Loans Pathway manager. He, along with Paul Tait, Kevin Thelwell, Gareth Prosser and of course Frank Lampard will be looking for that elusive pathway to the first team.
Though this article has been centred around results, there’s only one result that matters, one or more of these young talents in the first team! Keep up the good work Paul Tait!