West Ham United v Everton
Everton Under-21s suffered their second defeat in a week as Elliot Lee’s second half header handed West Ham United victory on Friday night.
A much-changed and youthful-looking Blues battled gamely in difficult conditions against the table-topping Hammers but just couldn’t quite find the accuracy needed to test home keeper Jake Larkins.
Both sides had already had chances, though few could be considered clear cut, before West Ham scored the game’s only goal.
From a well-worked short corner, Lee, son of former England and Newcastle United midfielder Rob Lee, guided a looping header over a stranded Mateusz Taudul and into the net.
Everton responded, Ibou Touray went for the spectacular with a 40 yard drive that fizzed narrowly wide of Larkins left-hand upright, before Apostolos Vellios hit the post late on. However, the Hammers held on to claim the points.
Reserves boss Alan Stubbs opted to shuffle his pack following defeat at Arsenal on Monday, and handed starts to a number of Under-18 regulars.
Alongside Touray at left-back, in came Welsh youth international Gethin Jones on the right of midfield and in-form striker Chris Long, whilst Matt Pennington replaced Johan Hammar alongside captain Shane Duffy.
And it was the skipper that suffered an early scare when he failed to properly deal with a right wing cross inside the first minute, the ball flicking off his boot and appearing to hit his arm. Penalty shouts fell on deaf ears, however.
The young Toffees carved out early chances but Long’s shot following a lung-bursting run down the right from Tyias Browning was tame and Larkins did well to thwart Duffy’s stabbed effort from Matt Kennedy’s free-kick.
Back came United but Taudul, recalled to the side in place of Jan Mucha, produced the first of a number of top saves to keep the Hammers at bay.
Lee did well to work an opening 20 yards out but the young Pole was at full stretch the well-struck drive away.
Defender Pennington nodded over a corner and Irons midfielder George Moncur dragged an effort wide before Taudul was called into action again.
Towering centre back Eion Wearen was left with a free header from a corner but was denied by another fine stop as the first half drew to a close.
After the break, striker Vellios was handed a glorious opportunity to open the scoring. The Greek, who has been among the goals in recent weeks, intercepted a stray pass across the back four but could only steer his shot high and wide of the target.
It proved decisive as, on 69 minutes, Lee popped up to turn in a corner and put West Ham in front.
Buoyed by the goal, the hosts went in search of a second but Taudul saved low from Lee then produced an even better stop from Moncur.
But the latter stages were all Everton. Touray then John Lundstram drove wide from distance before Vellios looked for all the world like he had levelled.
Another good run down the right from Browning saw the right-back pick out the striker perfectly, and Vellios’s touch looked to have sent the ball into the corner.
Frustratingly, however, the ball struck the post and bounced straight into the grateful arms of Larkins, meaning the points were West Ham’s.