Blackburn U21s v Everton U21s
Everton brushed aside Blackburn to get their Group One campaign off to a flying start at Leigh Sports Village.
On a freezing January night, goals from Conor McAleny, Francisco Junior and John Lundstram were enough to secure a comfortable victory.
Goalkeeper Jan Mucha had very little to do all evening but preserved a clean sheet by making a late penalty save to keep out Edinho Junior’s effort from the spot.
Alan Stubbs’ line-up was loaded with experience – seven of the 11 that started had sampled first team football - and that extra bit of quality made sure that the result was never in doubt.
Arguably the biggest name on show was Bryan Oviedo, whose international credentials were clear for all to see right from the outset.
Constantly foraging up and down the left channel, he was the architect of all things positive for the Blues during the first half.
Indeed, inside the first 10 minutes both Lundstram and Apostolos Vellios went close after latching on to centres from the Costa Rican.
Blackburn should have nudged themselves ahead after a quarter of an hour when Osayamen Osawe was picked out by a well-weighted slide-rule pass, but he lacked composure and side-footed over the bar.
10 minutes later and Everton took a deserved lead through McAleny, who finished at the second time of asking. After firstly scuffing a loose ball inside the Blackburn box, the number 10 steadied himself before firing across goalkeeper Matthew Urwin and into the net from eight yards out.
The 20-year-old forward came close to netting a second shortly after his opener, but this time Urwin was well placed to save his curling effort from distance.
Blackburn ended the first half on top and could have easily levelled the scores on two occasions, however Jordan Slew and Ryan Edwards both drilled wide from just outside the area.
Everton effectively killed the game as a contest in the opening exchanges of the second half, scoring twice to put the game out of Blackburn’s reach.
Three minutes after the restart, Francisco Junior picked up possession 20 yards out before unleashing a skidding effort that arrowed into the bottom corner.
And in the next attack, Everton’s lead was extended to three as Lundstram smashed in a first-time shot after being picked out by Tyias Browning's right-winged cross.
From that point on the result was never in doubt and the pace of the game became more sedate.
Vellios could have added a fourth in the latter stages but was unlucky to see an overhead kick fly just over the crossbar.
To Blackburn's credit, they kept going to the very end in their pursuit of a goal.
Substitute Jamie Maclaren hooked an instinctive effort past the post and two minutes from time they were handed the chance to register a consolation from the penalty spot when Edinho was tripped.
Mucha had other ideas, however, as he dove full-stretch to his left to beat away Edinho's attempt, ensuring Everton returned to Merseyside with three points and a clean sheet.