It’s safe to say that the current malaise affecting the club is not restricted to the fortunes of the first team at Everton so far this season.
Paul Tait’s Under-21 team did at least bounce back to earn a late 2-2 draw but Leighton Baines’ youngsters crashed again in an uncomfortable start to the season for all concerned. This means that of the six games played by the Toffees at all levels, we have seen five defeats and one draw.
Starting with the small positive, the Under 21s found themselves trailing 2-0 down at half-time facing their North East counterparts from Middlesbrough on Friday night.
The Blues were boosted by the inclusion of experienced 21 year old centre back Ryan Astley, who spent last season on loan at Accrington Stanley and left back Mackenzie Hunt, also 21, who has also had minutes pre-season with Sean Dyche’s first team. The latter’s inclusion meant a bit of a reshuffle for youngster Jack Butler, normally a left back himself but pushed forward to the left wing.
In an evenly contested first half, Nkrumah and Simpson had put ‘Boro 2-0 up with goals in the 35th and 42nd minutes respectively.
There was a hint of misfortune about both goals as firstly Ryan Astley committed himself into the tackle but, unusually for him, failed to collect the ball. It was crossed over for Boro striker Nkrumah to head powerfully home at the far post. The second saw a fine tackle in his own area by Blues centre back Brad Moonan fall kindly into the path of a Boro attacker and the ball played centrally saw a fine shot from Simpson find the net.
Everton had their moments but had Jack Barrett in goal to thank for keeping the scoreline down, especially towards the end of the half as the Toffees lost their way a little.
Thankfully, nine minutes after the restart there was a glimmer of hope as a great corner-kick from midfielder Jenson Metcalfe was met with a well-timed run, leap and superb glancing header by Francis Okoronkwo. Scoreline now 1-2.
As the half progressed and with the injection of pace from ex-Chelsea triallist Malik Mothersille, Everton edged closer to getting the equaliser their enterprising play deserved, although they had the woodwork to thank for keeping it just 1-2.
The equaliser finally came through the powerful left boot of Hunt. Showing his experience and sensing an opportunity to move inside from full back to a more threatening area, he side-stepped a couple of tackles before hitting a trademark powerful left-footed drive home. That was in the second minute of added time. 2-2 and chances in the remaining four minutes could have taken the game either way but the Blues deserved the point showing character in abundance.
Afterwards Paul Tait recognised the injection of experience on the night as he told evertonfc.com
“We told the players at half-time to keep the belief and stick to what we’d done in the first half. I thought we deserved to win the game, the way we played. We controlled huge parts of the game and somehow, we came in two goals down at half-time.
“We tweaked the shape a bit when young Jack (Butler) tired. That helped us gain more control and it was just about whether we had the quality to get the next goal. And when you want quality, Mackenzie pops up with it! I thought he was outstanding in the second half.
“He and Ryan (Astley) make a difference with their experience. Ryan helped young Brad (Moonan), who I thought did really well. Bazza (Jack Barrett) was excellent in goal. He made a great save in the first half, and he really helped the lads around him with information.”
Meanwhile a very youthful Under 18s team with 4 schoolboys on the bench took on Wolves at Finch Farm on Saturday morning. To illustrate the level of change and inexperience of the team, only five of the 16 squad members had any real experience at this level last season.
That said, it was the Blues who stormed into a two goal lead through a 3rd minute own goal. Harrison Armstrong was played in down the left and his cross was deflected in for the Blues to open the scoring. A 21st minute goal from the more experienced 17 year-old forward, Jacob Beaumont-Clark saw the lead doubled. It was a lovely through ball from Armstrong that saw Beaumont-Clark display expert chest control before firing home under pressure. That lead was halved before the interval and a three-minute spell around the hour mark saw the young Toffees lose the game as two well-constructed and taken Wolves’ goals did the damage.
These are early days at both levels. The Under 18s are scoring goals (four in two games) but conceding too easily (seven in two games). That sort of thing will always happen as the players adapt to full-time training. Next up for them is a trip to Middlesbrough on Saturday morning.
At Under 21 level, their next opponents are Brighton and Hove Albion on Friday evening in Southport.