A brace of goals from Ademola Lookman and a late strike from Nikola Vlasic saw a morale boosting end to Everton’s Europa League campaign in Cyprus, a result that lifted them from the foot of Group E at the expense of their hosts.
Limassol coach Sofronis Avgousti with a draw from the corresponding match at Goodison to reflect upon but like the Blues, failing to qualify for the knockout stages made changes in selecting: Kissas, Jander, Roberge, Pitian, Pedro, Santana, de Souza, Sachetti, Sardinero, Martinez, Papoulis (c) and Schembri.
Everton first team coach Craig Shakespeare stood in for manager Sam Allardyce and he named a much changed Everton side as three youngsters got their first starts. Most of the first team squad had stayed home to prepare for the ‘derby’ at Anfield on Sunday. The team therefore lined up: Robles, Charsley, Feeney, Besic, Baningime, Schneiderlin (c), Klaassen, Vlasic, Mirallas, Lookman and Hornby. The entire reserve bench was made up of academy players, giving them a unique opportunity to make an impression.
Shaven headed referee Sebastian Delferiere and his assistants had travelled from Belgium.
Once again the incredible travelling Everton support turned out in numbers, some 1,500 having made the long trip to Nicosia to take their place in a rather sparsely populated stadium.
A slight mix-up between Robles and Feeney almost resented an early chance to the home side, Baningime tidying up and averting any real danger. Papoulis fired over from the edge of the box on five minutes as the Cypriot side looked to make an early breakthrough.
A great ball from Klaassen in midfield set Lookman free on the left flank, his first touch took him slightly wide, but he cut inside to make a better angle for the shot that was solidly blocked by Kissas. A mazy run by Lookman on ten minutes saw the ball break nicely for Harry Charsley and his first time curling effort was bound for the top corner until Kissas, at full stretch, tipped it away for a corner.
The Blues had settled well and were pushing forward confidently with Lookman keen to test himself for pace against Limassol right back Pedro. A brief respite in the Everton possession saw a cross from Papoulis headed clear by Feeney and Sachetti hit a speculative 25-yard effort easily gathered by Robles.
The Everton possession turned into genuine pressure and it led to the opening goal in the 21st minute. A good move eventually led to Vlasic playing a one-two with Mirallas to chase the ball to the dead ball line and put an excellent cross to the back post for Ademola Lookman to stoop but plant a clever header high over the goalie into the roof of the net.
Seven minutes later the Blues scored a fabulous second after a succession of passes, Mirallas played the ball inside to Lookman and he controlled, took two strides and let an absolute howitzer go from 25 yards that Kissas igot a hand to but when never going to stop.
The double salvo stung the home side into a response and Joel Robles was needed to turn away shots from Sardinero and Papoulis in quick succession and then hold onto another close range effort from Sardinero.
A short pass from Klaassen gave Mirallas the chance to test the Limassol defence, but he pulled his shot wide across the face of goal.
Papoulis steered a header off a Sardinero free kick beyond Robles, but the linesman flag was raided and the ‘goal’ was disallowed.
Everton weren’t resting on their laurels and another good attack involving Charsley, Lookman and Mirallas saw Kissas, with his legs, deny a strong shot from Vlasic.
A studs up tackle from Besic on Pedro in added on time had the home fans howling for a penalty, but none of the officials saw fit to award a penalty as there was precious little contact, and an entertaining first half drew to a close with the Blues good value for their lead.
Half Time: 0-2
Robles punched away a powerful shot from RS loanee de Souza early in the second half as the home side tried to recover from the first half deficit but their early pressure was soaked up by a hard-working Everton defence.
A long ball from Robles was relayed onto Vlasic by Fraser Hornby and the Croatian fed Lookman before racing into the six yard box hoping for a cut back. It didn’t come as Lookman, on a hat trick, went for the shot and the keeper parried it away.
Limassol won a free kick right on the edge of the Everton area but two efforts from Pedro both hit the Everton wall. Zelaya replaced Schembri on the hour mark as Limassol wasted another free kick.
Everton were having to defend in numbers as the travelling fans again raised their voices in encouragement and Morgan Feeney showed a maturity beyond his tender years to stay goalside of Zelaya as he went for a diving header, Feeney completing the clearance comfortably.
Feeney was having an impressive first full game alongside Mo Besic at the heart of the Blues defence, dominating in the air whenever Limassol tried to launch balls more in hope than anything else, and looking calm and composed with the ball on the ground.
At the other end, Kissas did well to foil Mirallas as he took a pass from Vlasic to shoot low and then the keeper kicked away a Fraser Hornby shot. Baningime picked up a yellow card and tempers flared when Mirallas reacted to a challenge for RS loanee de Souza.
Into the final fifteen minutes and the yellow card score was evened up as Sachetti picked up a booking for a stiff challenge on Vlasic.
Welshman Nathan Broadhead replaced Hornby in the 82nd minute, the young Scotsman having led the line well on his full debut and he did well to create an opening for Vlasic who chose to look for Lookman rather than taking a close range shot himself.
Everton cemented a terrific victory on 86 minutes as another long bout of passing saw the ball fed through to Nikola Vlasic who beat the last man to run in and beat the goalie though his legs for 0-3.
Sixteen-year old Anthony Gordon got the final minutes replacing Kevin Mirallas before 17-year old Alex Denny came on for Harry Charsley as the an extra two minutes were signalled by the fourth official.
Zelaya bent a late, late effort wide of Joel Robles far post, but a marker for Limassol would have been an unkind end to fine, final game in this Europa League campaign
Full Time: 0-3
Whilst the Europa League has largely been a disaster for Everton this season, the club can take great heart from this final game given the assured and impressive debuts for four of their academy players.
Morgan Feeney in defence was impressive and the effort from Fraser Hornby up front could only have been bettered if he’s got his name on the score sheet. Harry Charsley was steady at left back playing up against the experienced Limassol skipper Papoulis.
Of the senior players, Klaassen, Schneiderlin, Mirallas and Besic will all have benefited from some much needed game time and Joel Robles performed well in goal in keeping a clean sheet.
Ademola Lookman proved a constant thorn in the side of Limassol and his two goals, particularly the second, will do his confidence the world of good.