On Friday evening at the Walton Hall Park stadium (Everton Women’s ground) the Under 21s team, after some unfortunate results, were clearly in need of a lift. Before kick-off Paul Tait may have been forgiven for thinking Christmas had come three months early as he was given the gift of a lively Jack Harrison to lift his team. The opposition was a strong Norwich City team on a blustery night half a mile away from Goodison Park.
To say the impact of having the loanee from Leeds United in the side was dramatic was perhaps an under-statement not an over-statement. I have watched the young Blues toil somewhat painfully this season and they were boosted not only by the inclusion of first-teamer Harrison but also by centre back Ryan Astley and midfielder Tyler Onyango getting game time after extensive training with Sean Dyche’s senior squad.
No disrespect to the latter afore-mentioned lads playing, but Harrison was the difference in the 45 minutes he played. It was almost like somebody had found a new battery for the team, such was his influence. His touch was excellent, his vision way above the level he was playing at on Friday but, for me at least, the most impressive thing about his performance was the teamwork ethic. No “Big Time Charlie” about this footballer, he worked his socks off. You could see Jenson Metcalfe especially, visibly feeding off Harrison’s knowledge.
He had one run and shot in the 17th minute that would have lit up Goodison Park. His jink inside from the right wing where he beat 3 men and got his shot away which was deflected for a corner was sheer class. Reminiscent of Trevor Steven in the ‘80s and I can say little that’s more complimentary than that.
The Blues played in a clear 4-1-4-1 formation with Luke Butterfield anchoring the midfield and Francis Okoronkwo leading the line. It was the latter who broke the deadlock after huge Everton pressure, Kouyate was fouled on the edge of the area and Okoronkwo struck the spot-kick confidently home, 1-0.
Harrison departed at half-time but not before he ran for 15 minutes solid with a fitness coach! He is definitely close to at least 45 minutes with the first team at either the forthcoming midweek Aston Villa Carabao Cup game or the home Premier League game against Luton Town next Saturday. Both maybe?
With Harrison departed, the young Blues welcomed back Kyle John for his first appearance in 6 months after injury and a minute after the restart they doubled their lead. The Norwich City goalkeeper made a hash of a clearance after being put in trouble by his own defender and it was Metcalfe who struck the loose ball first time into the net. 2-0.
In the 65th minute, Everton were pegged back after some slack marking allowed Ogwuru to fire home. Blues keeper Jack Barrett didn’t deserve to be beaten on the night having made a few top class stops but he was helpless with this one. 2-1.
The Blues hung on in the last 20 minutes or so especially, the only relief being the occasional lung-busting foray by Okoronkwo. A victory is a victory though and thoroughly deserved, it felt very much like a corner had been turned.
Special mention for two unsung heroes on the night, defensive midfielder Luke Butterfield and young left back Jack Butler. Butterfield, also returning from long term injury a few weeks ago, absolutely held the midfield together until he was rested late on and 17 year old Butler put in a display that had shades of Leighton Baines about it. After a week in which Mackenzie Hunt stood out at left back on Tuesday for Tait’s team, to have a mature display from such a young talent is a real bonus.
The Under-21s’ next outing sees them travel to take on Burton Albion on Tuesday 26 September (7pm BST) in the EFL Trophy.