Sean Dyche rung the changes as he named a new look Everton side to take on League Two strugglers Doncaster Rovers in the Second Round Carabao Cup clash at Eco-Power Stadium.
Jordan Pickford kept his spot between the sticks, with Michael Keane and Ben Godfrey in front of him. Vitalii Mykolenko made his first appearance of the season on the left and Nathan Patterson started on the right.
In the middle were James Garner, Amadou Onana and Abdoulaye Doucoure, with new signing Youssef Chermiti getting his first start up top and the pair of Arnaut Danjuma and Lewis Dobbin flanking him.
As embarrassing as it should be admit it, but even Sean Dyche will admit that his side were mostly outplayed in the first half and were lucky not to fall behind very, very early on in the game. For all their possession, the Everton players were either wasteful with the ball, or played like they have never met most of their teammates.
Doncaster might be at the very bottom of the football league pyramid, but they certainly played with the verve of a side that smelled an upset against an Everton side sitting on the bottom of the Premier League table without scoring. Luckily for the Blues, their hosts wayward finishing kept the visitors in the game with five shots all going awry in the first half hour.
The Onana - Garner double pivot makes sense on paper, but didn’t quite come off on the pitch. The big Belgian midfielder was everywhere though, inserting himself into the conversation every time Doncaster tried to go through the middle.
Dobbin was particularly wasteful in the early going, his ball control and distribution letting him down even when in promising positions. Everton’s first shot on goal or otherwise came on the 41st minute, Doucoure playing in Danjuma on the left, and the latter failing to hit the target as he looked for the far post.
The Blues were made to pay for that just minutes later. Mykolenko cut out a deep cross for a corner, which the hosts took short. The resulting ball played into the box was met by Joe Ironside who was clearly a couple of yards offside but he headed home unchallenged to put Rovers up 1-0. The assistant referee should have gotten a stern talking to for his error, but with no VAR present at any grounds outside the Premier League, the goal was going to stand and was probably deserved for the balance of play in the first half.
There was time for Onana to force a save from Lawlor before more chaos in the Everton box almost gave Rovers a second goal just before the break.
Dyche had clearly seen enough and made three changes at the break, yanking Patterson, Dobbin and Chermiti, and throwing on newest signing Beto, Idrissa Gueye and Ashley Young.
Garner went into the right back spot with Young lined up in right midfield. Gueye went next to Onana as the Blues kept the 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 hybrid, and the Blues immediately looked a lot more effective as they probed the hosts for an opening.
Despite that though, it was the hosts who had the better chance to score in the early going as they had chances with the Blues getting caught pushing upfront, and again almost extended their lead in the 56th minute when a lucky ricochet fell their way to create a shooting chance.
With three quarters of the game gone, Everton had still taken only two shots and that should pretty much tell you how the game was going for the Blues. Keane started spending more and more time in the opposing half, with Godfrey continuing to embarrass himself as a centrehalf.
However, just when Blues nerves were starting to shred, Beto stepped up with a real striker’s goal, running onto a through pass from Doucoure and tucking home past the advancing goalie to level the scores at 73 minutes.
The Blues were then forced into a substitution after the equalizer with Mykolenko coming off for James Tarkowski. Dyche then threw on Maupay for Doucoure to find a late winner in the few minutes available, and it was the beleaguered striker setting up the return pass for Danjuma cutting in to beat the goalie for the go-ahead goal.
The ref added six minutes to give the home side some late hope, but the Blues did enough to hold the ball up in the opposing half to see out the game, even as Maupay had two more chances to finally score, and saw the first blocked and the second saved before the final whistle. Beto did get his second too, but was offside.
The first hour of the match showed all too well that Everton need someone to put the ball into the net. Chermiti, Danjuma and Dobbin all have speed but they are not all out finishers. Beto was on the pitch for mere moments before he showed that he can do what no one else has done in the past three matches......put a bulge in the old onion bag. We had far more attacking intent when he arrived on the pitch and that has only been seen when Calvert-Lewin was on the pitch which has been a rarity. It could also be argued that Beto’s goal took off the pressure and Danjuma’s finish was clinical. Perhaps the additions are going to help us turn the corner.
Too often tonight our passing was atrocious. Our overall passing rate was 76% and if you took out the sideways passes among the defenders it would have been closer to 50%. Long passes were completed at only 42% and crosses were even worse at 29%. If we are to improve results, this area has to improve. In a game against the team who is at the bottom of League Two, it is incredible that we lost possession almost 200 times in the 90 minutes.....more than 2 times per minute.
It will be interesting to see how the midfield changes as injured players return and slot into the lineup. Garner and Onana are playing well together and the more they play the better their understanding will be. Onana showed again today that he can be all action and control the middle of the pitch.
Seasons are filled with ebbs and flows and this one has been very difficult for Evertonians. The travelling Blues would have been forgiven if they left after the first hour, thankfully they continued to support and push the team forward and the attacking potential was on display.
Danjuma spoke really well in his post-match interview admitting that the effort from the Blues wasn’t good enough, with Everton often played down to inferior opposition. In the end, this was a first win that should build confidence and show that better days are ahead. Bring on Sheffield United on Saturday.