A first win and clean sheet of the new season for Everton as they eased past a spirited Fleetwood Town, the only goal of the game coming off a mistake by the home side and confidently finished by Demarai Gray.
Tuesday evening saw the Blues take the short bus ride to the Fylde Coast and Highbury, the home of Fleetwood Town. And the opening game of the Carabao Cup campaign inevitably threw up the ‘play the strongest team’ versus ‘use the squad’ arguments in many supporters minds.
The Cod Army are now in the hands of former Glasgow Celtic captain Scott Brown – a man who knows as much if not more about winning trophies as a player than our own Frank Lampard. And the former Bhoy spoke eloquently in the build-up to the game: “Everyone in the dressing room is excited and looking forward to the match. There will probably have to be a few changes in midweek because the lads have been relentless and have been working extremely hard and sometimes you need to give a couple of the lads a rest. I know we’re coming into a huge game, and it will be a shame but for us, looking forward the league is very important to us and so is our form and at the same time there are lads on the bench who haven’t had a lot of minutes on the pitch. It will be a huge opportunity for them to get minutes.”
He continued, “With Frank [Lampard], he is a player I admire. For me growing up and also playing against him, it was fantastic. He is another young manager, and he is one who messaged me the minute I got this job and sometimes it’s the small details like that, that make it personally and for me it shows he’s a kind-hearted person. Our lads are going to cherish the moment on Tuesday, I am going to cherish it but for me it’s about us!”
And having spoken about giving a couple of his players a rest, he named his starting line-up: Stolarczyk, Rooney, Earl, Baker, Andrew (c), Johnston, Wiredu, Macadam, Hayes, Garner (J) and Garner (G).
Everton, when under Carlo Ancelotti, eased past a spirited Fleetwood Town a couple of years ago in the same competition including a brace of goals from Alex Iwobi in a 5-2 victory – this seasons game coming one round earlier than that occasion. With many Blues fans wanting to see Everton play their strongest possible team rather than resting players and using the squad, ultimately it would come down to the manager to do as he saw fit.
And when he spoke about his preparations and thoughts, it seemed clear that Frank Lampard would be offering players a chance to impress and force their way into his reckoning for the rest of the season when he noted, “It’s an important game. We’ve got players who are still needing minutes to get up to speed – a couple who played [against Nottingham Forest], a couple who weren’t playing today that will come into the team. Amadou [Onana] needs minutes, so there’s a good chance he will start. Seamus is in that position off the back of his injury. He was typically Seamus-like in that he’s worked brilliantly to get fit. A game will surely help him.”
And knowing the League Cup in its various guises down the years is a trophy still to bear the engraving of Everton upon it he added, “It’s game we have to respect. We have to respect the opponent and understand the importance of it and how the fans and how we should view it. We will approach it as we approached our last game.”
And as most expected, Frank Lampard did indeed choose the ‘use the squad’ option in naming his starting eleven: Begovic, Patterson, Coleman (c), Welch, Keane, Vinagre, Davies, Onana, Iwobi, McNeil and Rondon.
However, Tom Davies suffered a suspected groin strain in the pre-game warm-up and was replaced in the starting eleven by Demarai Gray.
On a pleasant, warm evening, our referee was Tom Reeves.
A fairly low key opening to the game as both sides weighed each other up, trying to give all the players a touch of the ball before Hayes on the right took Welch on for speed and got past him before failing to play a ball inside. In similar fashion, the first burst down the right by Demarai Gray also failed to see him get a cross in. A long ball from Welch looked to find Gray, the pass just too strong but, a clear indication that Route One football might play a part if silkier skills failed to produce.
Everton won the first corner as a Dwight McNeil shot was blocked by Baker and when the first cross was turned back into the danger zone by Iwobi, the Fleetwood defence closed ranks to ease the ball to safety. The home side again defended well as Gray and Patterson tried to force an opening on the right flank. An excellent pass from Iwobi found Vinagre in space for across that was just to high for Rondon, and a follow-up shot from Iwobi went wide of the target.
Rooney got away from Vinagre on halfway and led a Fleetwood attack but Everton got back in numbers and snuffed out any potential danger. Onana found Patterson and after beating a defender he played a nice ball to McNeil who completely mistimed his first time shot and the chance was lost to a goal kick. Twenty minutes gone and neither goalie had been tested.
A good Fleetwood move saw Andrew win their first corner off McNeil, Welch with a confident header clearing the set piece and Rooney was spoken to for bundling over Patterson as the ball went behind for an Everton goal kick. Fleetwood weren’t being overawed by playing Premier League opposition and a cross from Hayes was just to high for Joe Garner. Everton countered with Rondon getting the better of Earl but sending his low shot wide across the face of goal.
Everton opened the scoring in the 28th minute as Wiredu gave the ball away to McNeil just outside his own area, McNeil then finding Iwobi and he played it perfectly for Demarai Gray to beat the keeper from close range.
A not very good ball out of defence by Keane was picked off by Hayes and he had the home sides first effort on target but, not powerful enough to overly trouble Begovic. Ged Garner was booked for a poor challenge on Amadou Onana and from the free kick, Fleetwood cleared a dangerous cross from Vinagre. Andrew employed safety first tactics in putting another cross from Vinagre behind for a corner that was well defended and some decent Everton pressure was ended with a poor ball from Onana going out for a goal kick.
Nathan Patterson was caught by an inadvertent elbow but, was okay to carry on without making too much of the accidental contact from Garner. Gray dribbled his way across the Fleetwood penalty area, his pass to Patterson taking the young Scot a bit by surprise, his touch sending the ball ballooning over the goal. Fleetwood defended crosses from Vinagre and McNeil as neither attempt to find Rondon found their intended receiver and we entered the final five minutes of the first half.
The television cameras picked out Anthony Gordon on the Blues bench, the player seeming Chelsea-bound with his arm around Vitalii Mykolenko and having a laugh with James Tarkowski. Andrew was booked for barging into Onana and ahead of one added minute being announced, Hayes fired in a powerful shot that Begovic parried and he held onto a second effort that came in from Macadam.
Half Time: 0-1
Scott Brown made a change for the start of the second half, Vela replacing Wiredu who’d been guilty of the giveaway that led to the Blues scoring.
Patterson conceded an early corner to the Cod Army, Keane with two clearing headers ensuring no undue pressure on the Everton goal. Vinagre was yellow carded for bringing down Baker on a right wing charge, the free kick forcing Welch into a header that went backward and Begovic was alert to turn it away for a corner that saw a great tackle by Patterson deny a short range shooting opportunity. The League One side were certainly giving it a good go in the opening stages of the second half before Everton built a steady attack and Gray saw a shot charged down and cleared.
Another decent raid by Fleetwood saw Ged Garner win another left wing corner that saw Coleman charge down a Joe Garner shot. A foul, more of a bodycheck actually, by Vela on Onana saw the Belgian need a bit of attention before picking himself up and carrying on. A mistake at the back by the home defence saw Patterson test Stolarczyk, the on-loan Leicester keeper beating his shot away. A nice Everton move invoving Iwobi, Vinagre and Gray saw a shot from Onana blocked and cleared.
At the other end, Hayes drove hard into the Everton penalty area and won a corner as Begovic steered his shot round the post.
Everton made a double change on 63 minutes Lewis Warrington and James Tarkowski replaced Nathan Patterson and Reece Welch respectively. Fleetwood made a double change too as Batty and Omochere replaced Ged Garner and Rooney respectively.
Another foul on Amadou Onana left the Belgian writhing on the grass, Hayes treading on his instep and very lucky not to see yellow for what looked a painful challenge. The heavens opened as the clock reached the 70-minute mark and Everton getting forward saw Iwobi win another corner off Earl. Headers from Iwobi and Onana won another corner off Omochere, and a third corner in quick succession came as a shot from Rondon cannoned behind off a defender but, this time Fleetwood cleared.
With just less than fifteen minutes to go, Stan Mills made his first appearance at the expense of Demarai Gray.
Fleetwood were still fancying their chances of finding a late equaliser that would see a penalty shootout however, Everton were doing enough to keep them at bay in defending the first half lead. Into the final ten minutes and Warrington played a fine ball forward for Mills, Warrington again with two quick passes and finding Rondon who couldn’t find a way past Earl. A turnover by Batty allowed Iwobi to find Mills and his cross towards Rondon was well dealt with by Earl and Fleetwood cleared.
Two late changes by Fleetwood saw Macadam replaced by White and Glenfield replace Hayes in a last throw of the dice by Scott Brown.
McNeil flighted a free kick towards the back post where Onana couldn’t get a telling touch and the seconds continued to tick by. As four added minutes were announced, yet another foul on Amadou Onana saw Baker booked for his troubles, Onana will no doubt have a few bruises from this his first full game for his new side. Fleetwood cleared the free kick and the rest of the added -on time elapsed to see Everton through to the third round draw.
Full Time: 0-1