The Toffees Under 21s made the trip down the M6 motorway on Friday evening to play their Aston Villa counterparts at Bodymoor Heath, Birmingham. It was a chance to see how Paul Tait’s team would line up following the departures of regulars Sean McAllister and Eli Campbell who are making their mark on loan in Scotland.
Deadline day signing Kingsford Boakye made his debut on the left wing in a 4 man midfield behind lone striker Charlie Whitaker, making his first start following a long injury spell. The same could be said for Katia Kouyate and Ed Jones who also have played very little this season. Wearing number 6 and playing as a true defensive midfielder was Jenson Metcalfe.
Villa dominated the first half in truth, they seemed able to drive through the Blues diminutive midfield at will, much stronger players against a largely attacking Everton midfield. They took an early lead with Villa marauding clear, Metcalfe’s lunging tackle just outside the Blues’ box failed to connect with the ball or the man and the ball was worked through to striker Moore who was comfortably in space and scored with ease past Fraser Barnsley. 0-1 and not looking good.
Another strong attack by Villa in the 25th minute was only thwarted by a great recovery block from the Blues’ jet-heeled right back Roman Dixon.
The first real threat came in the 35th minute when debutant Boakye won the ball back on the half way line went on a 60 yard run and tried to fashion a shooting opportunity but was crowded out. That was followed 3 minutes later as the Blues looked to claw themselves back into the game and Isaac Heath’s cross was headed against the post by Kouyate.
As half-time arrived it was clear there had to be changes as the Blues were being outmuscled and over-run. Paul Tait saw the same things and replaced Whitaker with solid midfielder Callum Bates and Heath with the more experienced Liam Higgins, another player coming back from a long injury. Kouyate took up the lone striker role offering more height and presence. With a change of formation to a 4-1-4-1 and with both Metcalfe and Bates in the centre, the team had an altogether stronger look about it.
It was no surprise when the Blues equalised in the 49th minute. A corner had been awarded as substitute Higgins had a great run and cross blocked. From the resultant dead-ball, Reece Welch won the ball in the air but mis-headed against a Villa defender. As the ball fell and Kouyate put pressure on the home goalkeeper, the ball was swept home at the second attempt by Halid Djankpata. It would never win the prettiest goal competition but they all count! 1-1.
A spell of pressure on Villa’s goal was interrupted in the 68th minute by a poor pass from Toffees’ centre back Welch which rebounded very fortuitously to Villa’s Kellyman and he rounded Barnsley to score, 1-2.
Everton almost equalised 10 minutes later when Dixon’s right wing cross was cleverly headed back into the 6 yard box by Boakye and Kouyate’s acrobatic shot was not quite enough to beat the goalkeeper.
Two minutes later the new winger Boakye was smartly played in behind the defence by Kouyate and he was cyncially fouled a yard outside the area after trying to round the goalkeeper. The free kick by Metcalfe came to nothing and that was that.
How did Boakye do?
There were certainly little flashes of the skill that tempted Everton to sign him on a 2 year contract. He was part of a formation in the first half that clearly wasn’t able to live with the stronger Midland’s team. He still looked to have ability. The second half was a better showing from him and the team generally. He got on the end of a few neat though balls as the Blues midfield was bolstered and he looks as though he has pace and will be hard to knock off the ball. He lasted the full 90 though bizarrely there were 14 minutes of added time as there were quite a few injuries and substitutions even extending to the referee who crumpled after 90+11 minutes!
Overall, the Blues probably deserved a point from the game, Tait’s changes were timely, necessary but most of all effective.
Next up is a home game on Monday 19th February against Nottingham Forest.