A first half to forget saw the Blues trail Doncaster but, a second half that saw new signing Beto make a significant impact with a debut goal and a late winner from Arnaut Danjuma saved Everton the ignominy of a second round exit.
The road to Wembley and a date with the Carabao Cup Final began with bottom of the Premier League Everton crossing the Pennines to the South Yorkshire wasteland that is Doncaster and an Eco-Power Stadium clash with a Rovers side propping up the League Two table.
Despite his side being rock bottom of the EFL, Rovers boss Grant McCann was looking froward to the challenge of Everton with both sides looking at the game as an opportunity to kick-start their seasons in results terms, having yet to get off the mark in the league. “I think it’s a good game for us,” he said. “I hear it’s going to be a good attendance here and we’re looking forward to it. The whole of Doncaster I’m sure will be looking forward to a game live on TV. We just want to give a good account of ourselves against a good Everton team. Like ourselves, they haven’t started the way they would have liked but if you look at their games and performances, they have created so many chances. We’ve been watching a lot of them and they just haven’t managed to take the opportunities.”
And his thoughts on Rovers disappointing start to the season were echoed by midfielder Tommy Rowe who remarked, “We’re all accountable for it. It’s not down to individuals. Although it’s individual mistakes, we’re talking about teammates helping each other in certain situations. We’ve got to take more accountability and we’ve got to do more. The start is unacceptable. No one is saying we’re in a position where we’re playing well. We’ve had one game where we’ve had the performance level right, albeit in the cup where we got the fantastic win at Hull that has created this game for us on Wednesday evening.”
Hoping to cause a major upset, McGann named his starting line-up: Lawlor, Bailey, Olowu, Senior, Molyneux, Broadbent, Westbrook, Maxwell, Rowe (c), Faal and Ironside.
Everton were boosted on Tuesday by confirmation that Portuguese striker Beto had put pen to paper on a 4-year contract just in time for him to be included in the squad for this Carabao Cup clash, and be included amongst the substitutes. He certainly seemed determined when he said, “I am looking forward to getting started – today, right now. I know the team needs to score more goals and I will try to help with this. I love to score goals. I know we need this and I am here to help. I will always give my best to score goals. It feels really good to be here and I want to make my mark. Let’s do it.”
Blues boss Sean Dyche will have been hoping some of his positivity could rub off on his players as they look to open their scoring account against League Two opposition – it’s not been for the lack of chances, certainly in the two home games played, it’s been the inability for whatever reason to beat the opponents ‘keepers.
Speaking barely an hour before the game kicked off, Dyche commented, “It’s a tough task, all games are. We show respect to all sides. We need to carry a great attitude in our mentality. Two of our three performances have been very good, created lots of chances, we have to stick with that but take our chances. We’ve signed Beto and I would like to be able to give him 20-25 minutes tonight.”
He added, “The mentality of the squad is good and the players know that they have to convert the chances they’re making. I don’t want to to win games on lucky goals, I want us to make so much more of the chances we’re making, and the players know they have it within them to do so.”
Needing a positive result he considered his options to achieve that and named four changes to his starting eleven that read: Jordan Pickford (c), Nathan Patterson, Michael Keane, Ben Godfrey, Vitalii Mykolenko, James Garner, Amadou Onana, Abdoulaye Doucoure, Lewis Dobbin, Arnaut Danjuma and Youssef Chermiti.
On a pleasant South Yorkshire evening, Coventry-based Tom Reeves was our referee at the Eco-Power Stadium.
Rovers kicked off defending yet another sold-out visiting fans section – the away support the Boys in Blue enjoy is simply outstanding. A first minute scare for the Blues as a poor back pass from Keane played Pickford into trouble and a corner was conceded that saw a headed chance wasted. The home side certainly didn’t appear overawed at facing Premier League opponents as they made an aggressive start to have the better of the opening five minutes.
Everton won their first corner in the 8th minute as Patterson got forward, Rovers clearing easily and forcing Everton to go all the way back to Pickford. Mykolenko, Danjuma and Doucoure combined down the left flank but the home defence stood firm and cleared the threat before it could reach their penalty area. Rovers attacked down their right and Molyneux got away from Mykolenko, his cross finding Faal who couldn’t make anything of it and through the opening quarter of an hour, the home side had looked the more positive, Everton still looking to settle into the game.
The game was hardly setting any pulses racing, both sides misplacing passes and struggling to demonstrate some semblance of quality in their play. Molyneux got free again down the Rovers right and won a corner off Onana. Westbrook played it low to the edge of the Everton area where Rowe met it, his first time shot hit powerfully but rising to clear the bar without testing Jordan Pickford.
Passing the midway point of the first half and Sean Dyche will have been very disappointed at his sides inability to impose themselves on the hosts and not having created one chance in the game thus far. Chermiti got back to head a Rovers free kick clear, an Everton counter attack broke down and Rovers failed to make the most of another opportunity to get a cross into the Everton area. Just before the half hour mark, Rovers made the best chance of the half as the Blues failed to clear a cross and Westbrook shot from distance that went just wide of the near post.
Sean Dyche on the touchline was shouting himself hoarse, imploring his players to up their work rate and match the intensity of the home side. Danjuma won a free kick wide on the left to give the Blues a chance to put the home defence under some pressure – Danjuma flighting it to the back post for Onana who did well to make an opening for himself to cross, Rovers clearing without too much trouble. Maxwell hit a great cross to find Molyneux in space but, he failed to control it and Mykolenko cleared.
Rovers wasted a free kick opportunity following a foul by Onana on Maxwell, Everton catching them offside easily and when the Blues broke down the other end, Doucoure and Danjuma exchanged passes with the latter than firing a low shot across the face of goal and out for a goal kick. Rovers won another corner on their right as Mykolenko took no chances with a deep cross from Maxwell and it led to the opening goal. The corner was played back to Rowe and his flighted ball into the Everton area was met by the head of Ironside – looking suspiciously offside – and his deft touch beat Pickford and the home side led a minute before the break.
Lawlor saved with his legs from Onana found by Chermiti as Everton tried to hit back immediately and Rovers won a free kick when Keane bundled over Molyneux, and Pickford needed to make an excellent save to prevent Rowe making it two-nil at the break… and the travelling fans understandably gave vent to their feelings as the teams left the pitch.
Half Time: 1-0
Given the Blues struggle to score goals and struggle even harder to come from behind, surely there would need to be changes for the second half to try and prevent the ignominy of exiting one third of this seasons competitions before the end of August.
And Sean Dyche did react with a triple change for the start of the second half as Beto made his debut replacing Yousseff Chermiti along with Ashley Young and Idrissa Gana Gueye replacing Patterson and Dobbin respectively.
Beto straight into the play feeding Young to cross into the Doncaster area and Beto fouling the defender. Ironside won a corner off Garner as Rovers got forward and Westbrook and Broadbent exchanged passes before the latter fired in a low shot that Pickford saved easily. Mykolenko made ground down the left to send in a deep cross, sadly too deep for Beto trying to reach it. With Beto clearly offering a focal point, Everton were looking marginally better since the break, the question was could the rest of the side give him the service to make something of?
Mykolenko with a good block denied Faal found by Rowe as the home side again tested the Blues and we approached the hour mark with the home side still ahead and not looking particularly concerned on the odd occasion when Everton did get forward… and leading to the home support to chant ‘you’re getting sacked in the morning’ in the direction of Sean Dyche.
Everton defended another free kick to Doncaster who then got back to defend a cross from Garner and another cross from Mykolenko found Beto who couldn’t direct his header on target. Onana released Mykolenko again and his cross was hurriedly deflected behind for a corner to Everton that failed to trouble the Doncaster defence.
Twenty minutes to play and nothing was going right for Everton, Beto harshly adjudged to have run the ball out of play when it hadn’t and then Danjuma failed to keep a ball from Garner in play. Doncaster made a change with Roberts replacing Rowe. Danjuma controlled a cross from Mykolenko to set up Beto whose shot went well wide and drew jeers from the home support.
But the Portuguese had the last laugh as seconds later he got behind his marker to get on the end of a through ball from Doucoure to get a telling touch to beat Lawlor and finally get the Blues on a scoreboard on 73 minutes.
James Tarkowksi replaced Vitalii Mykolenko for the final sixteen minutes as Everton looked to stabilise and then try to find a winner to prevent the lottery of a penalty shootout. Doncaster to be fair to them weren’t buckling and kept trying to get forward themselves and with less than ten minutes to play, we were very, very definitely in next-goal-wins-it territory.
A cross from Garner found Beto, his powerful header gave Lawlor no chance but, it thudded back into play off the post. Danjuma then – found by Gana Gueye – curled a shot that hit the crossbar as Everton finally began to dominate.
Faal made way for teenager Brwn and on 84 minutes, Neal Maupay replaced Abdoulaye Doucoure. Roberts was yellow carded for kicking the ball away and Everton poured forward looking for a late winner, Maupay feeding Danjuma and his cross for Garner saw a short range effort blocked and cleared. And the Blues pressure finally paid off as Maupay got forward to lay the ball back into the path of Arnaut Danjuma and he cut inside and beat Lawlor at this near post.
Six added minutes were announced and now it was Doncaster getting forward in search of an equaliser, and forcing Maupay into conceding a corner that was cleared and Pickford gathered the follow-up cross. Garner and Maupay had late efforts blocked and saved, and time slowly passed by with Beto being denied a second goal as he netted from an offside position when found by Gana Gueye.
Everton progressed to the third round draw but, have the arrival of Beto to thank for providing the focal point and inspiration to raise the game from the shambles that was the first half.