Everton Under-21s soundly thrashed Southampton 5-0 and though it might sound harsh, on a very wet and cold Finch Farm pitch on Monday evening my man of the match nomination is a full back. Roman Dixon is no ordinary full back however as hopefully, first team followers will see in the not-too-distant-future. Ordinarily, when your main striker, Francis Okoronkwo, bags a hat-trick, it would be sacrilegious to pick out anybody else. Sorry, Frankie!
In truth, there were many outstanding performances by Paul Tait’s young men who were boosted (as the whole club should be) by the return to competitive action of Portuguese midfielder Andre Gomes.
Dealing with Gomes’ performance before the match detail, he looked pretty fit considering the length of his lay-off this season and lack of practice since he last turned out in the French league for OSC Lille against Marseille back on May 20th this year. Six months out on the back of so many injury issues at Everton is a long time but almost immediately on Monday you could see the class that Gomes possesses. His use of upper body strength, his ball retention under pressure and intelligent, if unspectacular, use of the ball in tight situations was there for all to see during the 62 minutes he had on the pitch. A lot has been made of quite how he would fit into an industrious Sean Dyche midfield, but I believe we saw a deliberate change of Under 21 formation to 4-1-4-1 to best accommodate him and for him to add his undoubted value. We may also see that if he is called into first team action. He played more as a #8 with Jenson Metcalfe taking the #6 in front of the back 4 and fellow midfielder Sean McAllister playing a hybrid #8/ #10. It worked well, made best use of Gomes’ skills whilst not creating a defensive vulnerability as young Metcalfe provided the midfield anchor and defensive screen.
The match itself was a great display of high pressing and swift attacking by the Blues, aided by the Southampton defence’s insistence on trying to play their way out from the back on every occasion. Let’s just say the young Saints didn’t manage their intricate play from the back very well as the Toffees picked off and intercepted a catalogue of underhit passes.
The Blues ran out 5-0 winners and, in truth it should have been 7 or 8 as the gulf in class was that big.
As early as the 14th minute, Metcalfe’s clever pass put Lewis Dobbin in possession and he advanced from the left wing to a more central position before firing home low from the edge of the penalty area, 1-0.
The second goal came in the 22nd minute as Kyle John successfully closed down a defender, got away from him and as he entered the area got a nudge from the same defender. A clear penalty which was dispatched confidently by Okoronkwo, 2-0.
The half ended with club number two goalkeeper Joao Virginia not having been called into action once, such was the domination.
In the 49th minute we saw a thrilling move which was to be repeated shortly afterwards. Metcalfe won possession and there followed a neat first time passing move between John and McAllister with the latter freeing the Toffees’ jet-heeled right back Dixon. Nobody was going to catch the sprinting full back and his measured low cross was firmly struck by Okoronkwo with the beleaguered Saints goalkeeper Josh Jeffries making a fine save.
Six minutes later, that same pattern saw the success it deserved as McAllister set Dixon free again and his lightning-fast run was matched by another great low cross skillfully turned home left footed by Okoronkwo, 3-0.
We didn’t have long to wait for the 4th as Gomes played a nice ball in the 57th minute for McAllister to chase and secure possession before carrying the ball to the edge of the area, dummying his shot, thus sitting the goalkeeper down, before firing home, 4-0.
In the 69th minute, substitute Halid Djankpata, who had come on for Gomes, was fouled inside the area and Okoronkwo calmly converted the penalty-kick, 5-0 and a match ball for the big striker.
There were further chances for two other substitutes, Jacob Beaumont-Clark and Isaac Heath which were well saved by Jeffries.
The match ended 5-0 and, as an added bonus, Virginia’s gloves will be OK for another game without visiting the laundry as he made only one catch and zero saves as a mixture of fine defending and awful finishing left him the coldest and most damp player at Finch Farm.
Great to see Gomes back and also that he happily joined in goal celebrations and also stuck around on the bench afterwards as Paul Tait’s men ran out worthy winners.
Speaking to evertonfc.com Tait was keen to praise both the performance and attitude of the returning Gomes: “Andre was excellent. His calmness on the ball was great and you could see he’s a top-class player.
“He was down to play for 60 minutes and when he came off, I told him to go and get a shower but he wouldn’t because he wanted to stay out with the lads and watch the rest of the game. He showed a great attitude and I thank him for that.”
The happy Blues boss added : “I’m delighted with that (the team performance), it was an outstanding win. The work rate and the effort were great and the boys were on the front foot from the first minute. The play, the tactical work, the commitment and the desire on a terrible night weather-wise were all there.”
The Under 21s are next in action a week on Friday when they entertain their counterparts from West Bromwich Albion.