On a wet and slippy surface at Finch Farm on Friday night, Paul Tait’s Everton Under-21s were on the front foot from the first whistle against a Wolves team that had conceded 8 goals in their last two fixtures.
Playing in a very distinct 4-2-3-1 formation, the Blues welcomed back into the side a few players who had been injured, namely winger Stan Mills, attacking midfielder and captain for the night Sean McAllister and centre midfielder Luke Butterfield. The latter played in a very effective dual-pivot role with new Northern Ireland international cap Isaac Price. The tactics were clear to see from the first minute as Everton deployed a very high and aggressive press which resulted in Wolves relinquishing possession at frequent intervals. The young Toffees were clearly out to impress in a formation which seemed to suit everybody.
Straight from the training ground where the game took place, the Blues took the lead in the 7th minute as Price and Frankie Okoronkwo played a short corner routine. The ball was played into the centre of the penalty area where centre back Eli Campbell attacked the ball to head powerfully home for his first goal of the season, 1-0. It was to prove a pivotal moment for young Campbell.
We surprisingly had to wait a further 20 minutes for the second goal as Wolves were being torn apart by the variety and pace of Everton’s play. It was Katia Kouyate, playing as left winger, who persisted with a move down the left when the safest thing was probably to play the ball back to his full back partner Mackenzie Hunt. The performance all night was nothing to do with playing safe however and Kouyate worked his way past his marker and put a great left footed cross for Mills to head down to Okoronkwo. Although his shot took a little deflection on the way into the net it was pleasing to see the positional sense of both Mills and Okoronkwo in anticipating the cross, 2-0.
The third goal came 4 minutes later as McAllister was upended just inside the penalty area and Mills stepped up confidently to fire down the middle of the goal with the goalkeeper committed to his right, 3-0.
Within the next 5 minutes the Blues could have made it 5-0 possibly as firstly Price headed narrowly wide from Mills’ cross and then a scintillating move involving Mills, Price and Okoronkwo saw the latter loft his shot over the bar when the move deserved better.
Not surprisingly, Wolves were a different opposition after the break with their impressive winger Tyler Roberts proving a threat. Blues Manager Paul Tait had withdrawn Price at the break, partly because of his yellow card for an over-zealous challenge and no doubt also his recent exploits with Northern Ireland. It did affect the tempo of the Blues assault slightly but it was equally rewarding to see the team’s determination to keep a clean sheet. Nobody typified that resilience more than Campbell, clearly uplifted by his goal and making 3 crucial blocks in his own penalty area to deny Wolves. It was easily the best game I have seen from the promising young Blues defender.
The scoreline remained 3-0 till the very end and it truly was a game of two halves as Wolves were at least equal for effort in the second 45. That’s not to say Everton didn’t go close to extending their lead but sub Jenson Metcalfe saw his fine run and shot well saved and McAllister, in stoppage time, saw his deliberately “cut” drive from the edge of the area drift just wide of the upright.
Manager Tait was delighted when speaking to evertonfc.com afterwards -
“I thought we were excellent – especially in the first half, I thought we were outstanding. Some of the football was really good. We opened them up and created loads of chances.
“We probably could’ve scored a couple more goals, to be honest, and when we had to defend, we defended really well.
“So, first half, I was delighted. We scored some really good goals and looked a threat.”
Acknowedging the improved second half from the opponents, Tait said -
“They were always going to come out and have a real go. You can be your own worst enemy at 3-0 up and take your foot off the gas, but to be fair, Wolves made it difficult. It was scrappy. We couldn’t quite get that fourth goal.
“But I thought we defended really well to keep the clean sheet. I thought Eli Campbell was excellent. I thought he was the best player on the pitch, especially in the second half.
“It was a great team performance. The lads were excellent, but I thought Eli was extra good.”
Next up for the Blues, oddly enough, is a game at Wolves on Monday evening 10th April.