Blackburn U21s v Everton U21s
Shane Duffy’s second-half header gave Everton Under-21s a gritty first win of the season as they edged past Blackburn at the Leigh Sports Village.
The Blues are operating with a very small and young squad this season and, while there was as much bad about this as there was good, there were some positives to take away from what was essentially a smash and grab.
Alan Stubbs will have been pleased with the way his side responded after the break following an error-strewn and lacklustre opening 45 minutes.
He’ll have been even happier with the workrate and guts his players showed to close the game out and secure a morale-boosting victory.
And as for whatever mistakes these youngsters will inevitably make, they showed bottle and a willingness to follow instructions and keep their shape to keep out a more experienced team.
While all of Everton’s players eventually contributed, ultimately the difference between the sides was Duffy’s overall performance and exploitation of a set-piece and some heroics in the Everton goal from Mateusz Taudul.
In an interesting sub-plot, both teams fielded Polish keepers who came through the ranks at the same provincial club in their homeland.
Both Grzegorz Sandomierski and Taudul are products of the Jagiellonia Bialystok academy, and while it would be the latter who would leave victorious – he was also the busier of the two.
By the time the 17-year-old had pulled off the pick of his first-half saves to thwart Micah Evans, he had already been far too active for his or Stubbs’ liking.
Blackburn had a much older look about their personnel and it told against a young Everton team.
Taudul had already made an impressive stop from one long range bomb when Simon Vukcevic rattled his cross bar on the half hour.
Moments earlier the keeper had impressively denied Edinho Junior after Ibou Touray had dithered badly in the wrong area of the pitch.
Vukcevic then thought he’d scored only to see his goalbound header blocked by the cranium of teammate Evans.
At half-time the Blues were fortunate to be level and were clearly given a rocket as they swiftly improved thereafter.
Sam Kelly, Connor Grant and Anton Forrester got through a lot of work, while Chris Long’s introduction to play as a link between midfield and attack certainly helped their shape.
Blackburn’s dominance in general play gradually slipped and the Blues just about got a foothold.
And with an hour gone, Matt Kennedy’s perseverance won a free-kick out wide and the visitors took full advantage.
Duffy knows how to make his size count, and after Johan Hammar had knocked back Grant’s delivery, the Irishman was there to power a header home.
Blackburn tried to respond but the Blues dug in, kept their shape and showed plenty of gumption to keep their hosts out.
When Rovers did break through they found Taudul an imposing figure and his late save from Diogo Rosado ensured a clean sheet and a hard-fought victory for his team.