The post-Cannon era for the Everton Under-21s began on Sunday afternoon in Lancashire with a Premier League 2 clash against mid-table Blackburn Rovers. Tom Cannon, who had bagged an impressive cross-competition haul of 16 goals was sent on loan to the Championship’s Preston North End last week and indeed made his debut for the Lilywhites at the weekend.
Always a difficult pair of boots to fill, the challenge went to 6’3” Francis Okoronkwo who has been in good form and he registered himself on the scoresheet in this game.
As the game got underway Everton started brightly and in the 7th minute, winger Stanley Mills playing on the right of a central midfield 3 this time, showed exactly why he has the potential to knock on the door of Frank Lampard’s first team. Some calm play out from goalkeeper Zan-Luk Leban to Joe Anderson and then Seb Quirk saw Mills pick the ball up 10 yards inside his own half. He then simply got into his trademark long stride and left their midfield for dead before cutting inside the Rovers centre back and curling a left footed shot expertly into the corner of the net. 1-0 and the willingness to get forward from deep and get a shot away is something the first team have been lacking for sure?
That’s the way it stayed until five minutes after half time when Zak Gilsenan, a young Australian who lists Barcelona and Liverpool as two of his youth teams, waltzed through the Everton rearguard who, despite being back in numbers, could do nothing to stop him getting an impressive strike away and into the top corner of the goal, 1-1.
Blackburn took the lead 7 minutes later with a debatable goal as Markanday received the ball in what appeared an offside position to slot home. He had got blindside of Toffees defender Anderson but it may well have been ruled out under VAR scrutiny if in the Premiership. 1-2.
Parity was deservedly restored in the 64th minute when Eli Campbell’s fine free kick was well parried by the Blackburn goalkeeper out toward the side edge of the penalty area. However, a defender slipped as he tried to clear and only succeeded in playing the ball comically into the path of Okoronkwo and the Blues striker made no mistake from 10 yards centrally. 2-2.
The Blues held out until the 82nd minute when Rovers’ Leonard managed to get blind side of Campbell who was playing in the central position of the back 5, and he made no mistake. 2-3.
A breakaway goal in the 88th minute flattered the hosts as Weston took advantage of a bit of disarray in the Blues defence and scored despite some valiant efforts to keep the ball out. 2-4, undeserved, but the Blues will have learned from the outing.
On a performance (rather than development) level, overall this season across competition Paul Tait’s team have scored a wonderful 59 goals in 25 games but disappointingly in the last 4 games have shipped 11 goals, scoring only 6. It is all about development at this level though and there were plenty of encouraging signs especially in attacking phases. They are in action again on Wednesday, making the long trip down south to play Southampton in the Premier League Cup.
Everton Under-21s Head Coach Tait was positive after the game -
“I didn’t think we deserved to lose by that margin. It flattered them a bit. We were in the game for most of it and then just a bit of experience told at the end. They had midfielders who have played hundreds of Championship games between them and they showed their quality and the level they are at.
“We’ll learn from it. It was a good game for us and we played some excellent stuff, especially in the first half. They then took control of the second half, but we got back into it and at 2-2 we wanted to push for a winner but the game got turned on its head.
“Our first goal was excellent. We played out from the back, the build-up was really good and then Stan did what he does with a great run and finish. I was glad to see Frankie get a goal as well. He worked hard and he looked a threat. There’s more to come from him, too”.