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Goodison Park | 18th November 2012 13:00

Under-21s v Reading

Darron Gibson made his long-awaited comeback from a thigh injury as Everton's Under-21s were held to a goalless draw by Reading on Sunday.

The Irishman had not seen a minute of action since limping off during the first team's 2-0 defeat at West Bromwich Albion in early September.

But the former Manchester United midfielder looked comfortable and composed as he managed a valuable 63 minutes before being replaced by youngster Hallam Hope.

The news would have been music to the ears of Everton manager David Moyes, coming less than 24 hours after the Scot confirmed skipper Phil Neville would be out for up to two months having undergone a knee operation on Friday.

The result was perhaps a little harsh on Alan Stubbs' side, who enjoyed large spells of possession but saw their hopes of victory thwarted by an impressive display from visiting goalkeeper Jonathon Henly.

While Gibson's was the standout name on the teamsheet, there were also starting roles for Sylvain Distin - after he sat out Saturday's Premier League defeat to the Royals - and Apostolos Vellios, a second-half substitute at the Madejski Stadium.

But a seesaw start saw both teams struggle to grab a foothold in the game and it took 11 minutes for a real opportunity of note to arrive.

It fell to diminutive midfielder Francisco Junior but his thunderous drive from the edge of the box whistled just over the crossbar.

The Guinea-Bissau-born Under-21 international had a better chance shortly after when a neat flick from Vellios put him through on goal. On this occasion his first touch was too heavy, allowing goalkeeper Henly to tear off his line and pluck the ball from his feet.

The battle between the former Benfica Academy star and the Royals stopper continued on 28 minutes when the former threw himself at a corner, forcing a smart, instinctive save from the latter.

Gibson, meanwhile, was growing as an influence in the game and tried his luck from range, only to get too much lift on his shot and send it cruising over the crossbar.

A jinking run from Reading's Jordan Obita then led to a chance for Aaron Tshibola with 36 minutes played but Polish stopper Mateusz Taudul was equal to his fiercely struck drive and tipped it round the post.

Saturday's first-team fixture at Reading saw winger Matthew Kennedy named on the bench for the first time and with half-time nearing, the 18-year-old demonstrated his potential, evading a challenge with neat footwork, only to see his cutback across the face of goal well blocked with fellow midfielder Conor Grant primed to open the scoring.

The second half started with Everton again in the ascendency but, for all their possession, the Blues struggled to break down a resolute Reading defence.

They were nearly punished on the counter attack too but after sneaking into the box, Dominic Sam's shot was high and wild.

The same player then saw another long-range effort deflected over by Distin as the visitors enjoyed their best spell of pressure.

Gibson's afternoon came to an end as he made way for Hope and the switch in formation led to an immediate chance for the hosts, Vellios stinging the palms of Henly with a bending strike from 18 yards.

And despite a lively late cameo from substitute Chris Long, on for Grant, it was as close as the hosts would come to finding an elusive winner.

A point for Stubbs' side, the victory here came for Gibson and for Moyes.

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