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Finch Farm | 12th November 2012 13:00

Everton U21 v Blackburn U21

Everton Under-21s missed the chance to go third in the table by slipping to a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Blackburn Rovers on Monday afternoon.

Bruno Ribeiro's 75th-minute strike was the difference in an otherwise even contest at Finch Farm, with Conor Grant cancelling out Hallam Hope's own goal just before half-time.

It was a mixture of youth and experience once again for Alan Stubbs' side as the allowed quota of overage players was utilised with Sylvain Distin, Thomas Hitzlsperger and Jan Mucha all featuring.

With several of his usual second-string youngsters away on international duty, Stubbs was also forced to bring in players from the Under-18s side.

Apostolos Vellios, John Lundstram, Johan Hammar and Matthew Kennedy had all departed with their respective nations and in came Conor Grant and Gethin Jones.

The duo started either side of Hitzlsperger and Francisco Junior in midfield, while Distin partnered Shane Duffy at the back.

Mucha kept goal with Tyias Browning and Ibou Touray in the full-back roles, and Magaye Gueye playing just off Hallam Hope in attack.

The Blues started the contest brightly, with Gueye, Grant and Hope all going close in the early stages.

At the other end, Jones was alert to put in a vital block to deny a Rovers' effort on goal, as both sides enjoyed good passing in possession.

It took a stroke of ill fortune for the opener to arrive, as an in-swinging Blackburn corner came through a sea of bodies in the box on 24 minutes.

The ball emerged unkindly for Blues striker Hallam Hope, guarding the far-post, and the pace allowed no chance to react as it cannoned off his knee and into the net.

Paulo Jorge almost grabbed a second for the visitors with a first-time curling effort that had Mucha diving at full stretch. Meanwhile, Gueye and Hitzlsperger both went close from set-pieces.

On 42 minutes, Everton conjured up a more fluid move to invent an equaliser.

Junior tricked his man by pretending to shoot and instead shifted his feet to feed a perfect pass into the surging run of Grant. The youngster put his left foot through the ball and past Grzegorz Sandomierski to make it 1-1 before the break.

The second half lacked a lot of the urgency in the opening 15 minutes, but the hour-mark signalled a return to action for left-back Luke Garbutt.

The 19-year-old had been sidelined with an ankle injury sustained shortly after making his first-team debut in the Capital One Cup against Leyton Orient, but he replaced Touray to get 30 minutes under his belt.

Almost immediately, the Blues carved out the first real chance of the second period, as Jones beat the advancing Sandomierski to the ball and his header looped toward an open goal. The move was thwarted however, as a retreating Rovers defender got back in the nick of time to clear.

Elsewhere, Duffy went close to adding to his impressive haul for the season so far on three occassions, with a succession of headers going agonisingly close.

The centre-half was on hand at the other end too, making a last-ditch save with his head to prevent the visitors regaining the lead - albeit momentarily.

On 75 minutes, Bruno Ribeiro jinked and jived inside the Blues' penalty area to carve space to shoot - and the forward rattled his effort in off the right-hand post.

Stubbs' side fought in vain for another equaliser, with Garbutt trying an effort on his weaker foot, but the referee's final whistle signalled the end of a frustrating afternoon.

The result leaves the Under-21s sixth in the table, with only three points separating them from third.

Next up is a home fixture against Reading on Sunday 18 November.

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