Everton Under-18s beat Fulham at Craven Cottage on Friday evening in the final of the FA Premier Academy League competition to be crowned the title of best youth team in the country.
As ever, our youth team reporter has detailed an account of how the lads performed;
Fulham Line Up: Jorenen, Marquez-Sanchez, Smith, Toure (c) , Arturworrey, Brister , (Gameiro) 64 Minkwitz, Trotta, (Peniket) 87 Frei. Harris
Everton Line Up Davies, Browning, Garbutt, Bidwell, Dier (c), Barrow, (Waring) 76 McAleney, Donegan, Kinsella, Forrester , Thomas. Subs, Roberts(GK), Higgins, Molyneux, Waring, O´brien
Match Officials Ref Mr. C Fitch Assistants Mr. S Kay & Mr. G Read 4th Official Mr. P Harris
The sun was going down behind the Riverside stand as the River Thames runs at the back of it, all spectators were sat in the Johnny Haynes stand including a certain Mr Bill Kenwright watching with interest. The floodlights were on as the teams entered the field of play to contest the National academy final. A week ago Everton managed to win the league by a point at the expense of Liverpool who failed to capitalise on beating Wolves in their final game.
Everton were again without Hallam Hope and John Lundstram who were returning back from international duty with England and the injured Johann Hammer who was injured with knee ligaments in the semi Final against Aston Villa on Monday
Jake Bidwell partnerd Eric Dier in defence while Luke Garbutt took the left back role as Fulham kicked off attacking the Putney end and Everton played with a 4-5-1-formation.
Fulham who won the toss to host the final made the first attack on 3 minutes when Kerim Frei went on a good run but came to nothing but 60 seconds later Everton´s number 8 Donegan fancied a shot but went wide and troubled nobody. Both teams seemed to settle down well and keep possession without testing either keeper. The Everton defence looked a little unsure when Josh Pritchard ran down the middle of the field towards the Everton goal unchallenged but again the attack dwindled away thankfully. Everton again retaliated when Gerrard Kinsella played the ball out to Thomas on the right who knocked a nice cross to Garbutt and forced Joronen in the Fulham goal into a good save.
Fulham again pressed as this game was very much an entertaining end to end affair and this time Minkwitz forced his way to the visitors goal and won a corner which Dier cleared with a very strong and masterful header, so the first ten minutes a fine game of football was there to see and delighted
the two sets of supporters.
Fulham made a lovely move with Alex Brister playing a nice ball to Marcello Trotta who turned Garbutt only for the captain Bidwell to make a lovely timed block tackle and saved Everton from trouble. The Cottagers seemed confident when Toure´s won a corner pn 13 minutes which was taken by Brister the ball was played to Ronny Minkwitz who hit the ball into the goalkeeper Davies´s arms which he took with ease.
Donegan now picks the ball up in his own half sprays the ball to Thomas who puts a good effort towards goal but the host´s defender makes a block to force a corner but Fulham clear the threat of everton pressure.
On 20 minutes there was I felt a bit of bad Sportsmanship from the Fulham forward Trotta who seemed to gesture to Mr Fitch the referee to book Donegan for holding him back on the half way line but the ref declined the gesture and let it go., 2 minutes later the busy Donegan ran and made a chance for Kinsella who snapped at the ball and sent it over the bar without troubling the keeper and a mirror image from Frei a minute later at the other end
Approaching the 30 minute mark Everton were playing some delightful football as were Fulham and the impressive Garbutt crossed a ball from the left to Thomas in front of the goal who was obviously not expecting it who had a chance to head home, the ball missed the post by a fraction and that was the nearest there was to goal at this stage
Donegan and Kinsella made a nice passing move going forward but Fulham were equal to the opposition by cancelling them out
The first half was drawing to a close but Everton still felt there was work to be done when again Thomas had a chance from a Garbutt throw and on 34 minutes Forrester´s pace took hin towards goal only for the linesman to flag for offside. Everton wer now looking the better side only by a nargin but Browning retrieved a ball as Fulham decided to let the visitors know they were still in the game. Everton´s last chance of the half fell for Kinsella who shot was just wide from a long thro from Jordan Barrow. The 4th official indicated there was an additional minute to be played but the teams went off at half time stalemate and very much in the balance and an interesting second half awaits.
Half Time Fulham 0 Everton 0
Everton looked more brighter and hungry as the second half commenced as they stepped up the pace and on 55 minutes McAleny passed the ball to to Kinsella who with Donegan showed some nice training ground touches back to Mc Aleny whose effort went close past the left hand post which brought sighs from the crowd.
Everton were without doubt looking the better now of the teams and if there was a winner it was them and now Thomas and McAleney changed sides and take a different approach. Dier hit a long ball forward to Thomas but was too strong for him and the ball went out of play for a Fulham throw.
63 minutes Everton got a corner from the right and Garbutt´s delivery made the goalkeeper come off his line to punch but got hurt in the process and was attended to by his physio.
Forrester had the crowd excites now when he was near to a goal and a goalmouth scramble, Fulham cleared again the danger as Everton´s dominance was evident. Another Everton attack created by Donegan plays a great ball forward only for Kinsella and Thomas to confuse each other and another chance goes begging.
With 16 minutes remaining and looking like a stalemate Eric Dier plays a back pass completely out of character and the Fulham forward intercepts only to be challenged by the courageous Bidwell as a penalty appeal once again was raised and again the ref waved it away and Dier looked relieved for what could have been a costly error late on but literally seconds later the home side had the ball in the net and their noses in front when a neat interchange of passes gave Minkwitz a sight of goal who was thorough and precise with his delivery and 1-0.
This was totally unfair on Everton who had not taken their chances would have been in front themselves. An immediate change was made when Barrow went off and was replaced by lanky George Waring and knowing they had to go for it with time running out.
The Cottagers lead was short lived when 6 minutes later when a deep cross from the right hand side fell to Thomas who levelled the contest 1-1 and get in.3 Minutes later McAleny tries his luck searching for the winner with an effort which the goalkeeper saves. Extra time was looming but on 85 minutes Adam Thomas who got the blues level hit´s a left footed cross to Waring who rises above the Fulham defence to put the blues in front with a header and bring wild cheers from the Everton contingent in the Johnny Haynes stand.
Fulham brought off Trotta and replaced him with Peniket and desperate to save the game. The 4th official Mr Harris held up his board indicating there was an additional 4 minutes and could Everton hang on to the lead was anyone´s guess with Fulham pressing and forcing a couple of corners. The Fulham bench were urging the goalkeeper to go forward but desperation told as the chances they made went wasteful.
The ref decided enough was enough and the cheers from the Everton team and supporters could have been heard at the other side of West London´s neighbours Chelsea.
The host´s were graceful in defeat and collected their losers medals as Everton were presented with their trophy received by Jake Bidwell then posed for photographs while celebrating this great victory. Bidwell and the team brought the cup only to share their delight with their families and fans as they proudly showed us their medals and I was the lucky recipient of Jake Bidwell´s captain´s armband
I thought it would be unfair to give anyone a man of the match award even though there were some great individual performances but the whole team collectively get the award for not allowing their heads to drop when they could so easily have done when Fulham went in front.
I headed straight home once the party went into the dressing room to land home at 2.10am and get some sleep before my next adventure at the Hawthorns the following day