Following the Premier League 2 Title in 2016-2017, Everton’s Under 23 squad had a season of transition in 2017-2018, finishing 7th in the 12 team league. A number of reasons contributed to this mid table finish.
Firstly a number of the players in the title winning team moved on to the first team squad. Tom Davies for example became a first team regular in the second half of the 2016-2017. Jonjoe Kenny and Beni Baningime mainstays of the title winning team were promoted to the first team squad during 2017-2018. Dominic Calvert-Lewin, and Ademola Lookman also flitted between the first team and the Under 23’s, Calvert-Lewin cementing a first team spot on a number of occasions along with Mason Holgate.
Secondly a batch of players from the title winning team were sent out on loan in 2017-2018, Kieran Dowell (Nottingham Forest), Joe Williams (Barnsley), Antonee Robinson, Harry Charsley (both Bolton Wanderers), Matthew Pennington (Leeds United), while Liam Walsh was sold in January 2018 to Bristol City. Robinson, Walsh and Pennington are again out on loan this season at Wigan Athletic, Bolton Wanderers and Ipswich Town along with Callum Connolly also at Wigan.
Thirdly the Club signed a batch of young players in the Summer 2017, Josh Bowler from QPR, Boris Mathias from Metz, Nathangelo Markelo from FC Volendam, Lewis Gibson from Newcastle United and Dennis Adeniran from Fulham.
Finally we had the Under 23 Manager David Unsworth taking charge of the first time on a temporary basis in the interregnum between the sacking of Ronald Koeman and the appointment of Sam Allardyce, which disrupted the work of the Under 23”s.
In essence we had a title winning team which had lost a number of players promoted to the first team squad or sent out on loan, while also bringing in a number of young players, who at such a young age would take time bedding in at there new club. When you add to the mix David Unsworth disappearing to the first team for a period following the sacking of Koeman, it is clear the Under 23’s would find it difficult to hit the heights of the 2016-17 season. Losing Captain Morgan Feeney and Denis Adeniran to injury in the second half of the season also did not help. All in all the 7th place position which the team finished in 2017-2018, reflects the great change which had taken place following the title winning season
The gaps created by the loss of a number of players during 2017-2018 did have its plus points. During the season, a number of the Under 18’s squad were given game time for the Under 23’s. Con Ouzounidis, Alex Denny, Anthony Gordon, Michael Collins, Fraser Hornby all stepped up to the Under 23’s and acquitted themselves well at points during the 2017-2018 season. Most supporters will have gained at least one look at these players, as a number of the Under 18’s and Under 23’s got first team experience in the dead rubber Europa League 3-0 win at Apollon Limassol in December 2017.
As the season progressed a number of players brought to the Club in the Summer started to improve. Nathangelo Markelo, who was brought in to take the place of Benni Baningimme, was played out of position at right back for virtually the whole season, were he did well. Only in the second half of the penultimate game of the season against Liverpool and in the final game away at Manchester United was he played, and very impressively, in the midfield position he was originally signed for. Midfielder Denis Adeniran started to show signs of progress before his season was cut short by injury, while in the last couple of months of the season, winger Josh Bowler started to show the promise he was brought to the Club for. Add to this the good form from Anthony Evans and Morgan Feeney, (until his season was cut short), and it could be seen, that for 2018-2019 season, David Unsworth had the seeds of a good team.
Which leads us to the start of the 2018-2019 Under 23’s season. As this is written every team has played seven games, Everton stand top of the league from Arsenal on goal difference having won four drawn two and lost one of there opening seven games. Next up in the league is a top of the table clash away at Arsenal on 22 October. Added to the league form are the results in the International Cup, a 2-2 draw at Brighton and Hove Albion and a 2-0 home win against Benfica, with Bayern Munich still to play in December, plus a 3-0 win over Doncaster Rovers in the Premier League Cup. The only reverse so far in cup games has been the opening group stage Checkatrade Trophy defeat at Bradford City, were after a 1-1 draw, Bradford equalising with virtually the last kick of the match with Everton down to ten men, we went down in a penalty shoot out
Clearly the season of transition in 2017-2018 is now bearing fruit. A new batch of promising youngsters are emerging. Josh Bowler, Nathangelo Markelo and Dennis Adeniran, after a season at the Club, are starting to show real form this season, while stalwarts Morgan Feeney, Anthony Evans, Nathan Broadhead, Harry Charsley and Matty Foulds are putting in good performances and Bassala Sambou is improving up front. The name on most Evertonians lips though is Fraser Hornby. Moved up from the Under 18’s during last season, Hornby is a Centre Forward who probably in statue most resembles Duncan Fergusson. He led the line well for Scotland’s Under 21’s during the Summers Toulon Tournament and scored five goals in two games for Scotland’s Under 21’s in October. He has even been mentioned by some Scottish pundits for a call up to the full national team. Unfortunately due to an ankle injury he will be out for the next two months, which is a blow to the Under 23’s.
Meanwhile further below Paul Tait’s Under 18’s have started the season in devastating fashion winning the first seven league games before being held to a 3-3 draw at home to West Bromwich Albion in their eighth game. The Under 18’s are a point clear on top of the league from the shower across the park. At such a young age there is still a lot of learning for these youngsters to do, but Centre Back Ryan Astley, who played at Sunderland for the Under 23’s last season, looks a real prospect while Ellis Simms is banging in goals for fun.
The first aim of any Academy is to produce players for the first team, results are secondary to this. In the last few years we have seen Tom Davies, Jon jo Kenny, Benni Baningimme and recruits Mason Holgate and Dominic Calvert-Lewin become part of the first team squad while Ademola Lookman and Kieran Dowell are now also on the fringes of the first team. After a season of transition the start of this season seems to point to a batch of young players in the Under 23 squad, who may have a chance at the Club, while also hopefully having a good chance at winning some silverware this season. When one sees the talent making its way in the Under 18’s as well, it seems clear that the Everton Academy system is still in good health. Both the Under 23’s and the Under 18’s may actually have a chance of winning some silverware this season, which if not the first priority is always nice and something to aim for.