Middlesbrough U21s v Everton U21s
Tony Hibbert completed the full 90 minutes as Everton Under-21s extended their unbeaten run to 12 matches with a 2-1 victory over Middlesbrough.
Alan Stubbs’ side recovered from a second-minute setback to take all three points at a windy Rockliffe Park.
Bradley Fewster put the hosts into an early lead but Matthew Kennedy’s clinical finish after half an hour and Apostolos Vellios’ penalty on 52 minutes ensured Everton maintain their place at the top of Group 1.
The result was the right one, with the Toffees the better team throughout the 90 minutes in testing conditions.
However, they were caught cold by Middlesbrough with a little over 120 seconds on the clock.
The unfortunate Mason Springthorpe took a heavy touch when attempting to control a backpass, Ryan Brobbel seized possession and his cutback was converted by Fewster from eight-yards out.
Springthorpe did not let the mistake affect his performance as he produced a top-drawer save to prevent Cameron Park from doubling Middlesbrough’s advantage with a 25-yard free-kick.
Brobbel also came close before Everton levelled with their first shot on goal.
The impressive Chris Long delivered a low cross from the right and Kennedy was perfectly placed to flick in the equaliser from close range.
Another superb stop from Springthorpe – this time to deny Sirrell – kept the score at 1-1 heading into half-time, before Everton gained control just seven minutes after the restart.
After an intricate passing move, Hibbert’s cross was handled inside the area by Sirrell. Luke Garbutt wanted the penalty but it was Vellios who placed the ball on the spot and sent Boro goalkeeper Connor Ripley the wrong way from 12-yards out.
From that point onwards, the visitors never looked in danger of throwing away the victory.
Kennedy came close to his second with a deflected effort, as did Long with a similar attempt from the opposite flank.
The Everton defence were organised throughout, with John Stones in particular catching the eye with a composed showing alongside Tyias Browning at centre-half.
There was a late scare though for the Blues' rearguard when Jordan Jones wriggled free to fire goalwards from the edge of the box, but Springthorpe pushed away the shot to guarantee the win for Everton.
With three fixtures left to play – against Sunderland, Chelsea and Aston Villa – the Under-21s are very much on course to finish in top position and earn a place in the end-of-season play-offs.