Everton 2 Arsenal 1
Everton Under-18s returned to winning ways in the league with a hard-fought
2-1 win over Arsenal on Saturday afternoon.
Kevin Sheedy's team broke a run of three consecutive league defeats thanks to goals from Tyrone Duffus and a penalty from George Green just before the half-time break.
It wasn't all plain sailing for the Blues, who also had to battle the elements at Finch Farm. The players were temporarily hauled off the pitch in the opening period due to a freak hail storm.
Despite the torrid conditions, Everton started positively and imposed their short passing game on the visitors in the opening exchanges.
But Arsenal manufactured the first clear opening of the game when Alex Iwobi skipped past Gethin Jones down the Blues' right. The winger's low shot looked destined for the bottom corner, but for a vital block by the energetic Joe Williams.
Everton's first opportunity fell to Jonjoe Kenny. The young defender forced a smart save from Arsenal stopper Ryan Huddart after a deep floated cross from George Green.
The game remained finely poised, but the Gunners came close to breaking the deadlock again when Ainsley Maitland-Niles found himself in space on the edge of the Everton area.
The winger unleashed a stunning curling shot off the outside of his boot, but the woodwork was on hand to save a helpless Russell Griffiths in the Everton goal.
The poor conditions continued to deteriorate and the officials were forced to temporarily suspend play after 32 minutes with the wind, rain and hail swirling around Finch Farm.
After a short delay and with the words of Sheedy and Duncan Ferguson still ringing in their ears, the young Blues went on to open the scoring on 35 minutes.
Intelligent link-up play between Welsh wideman Jones and winger Calum Dyson set up an inch-perfect cross for Tyrone Duffus in the Arsenal six-yard box, and he made no mistake in nodding the ball past Huddart to give the home side the lead.
The Toffees doubled their lead just eight minutes later when Jordan Thorniley was bundled over by Arsenal's Tafari Moore inside the penalty area.
Green emphatically converted the spot-kick - smashing the ball into the top left corner of the goal and sending Huddart the wrong way.
It was to be Green's last contribution as he hobbled off with an ankle injury to be replaced by England Under-17 international Ryan Ledson.
Both teams continued to battle the weather, as well as each other, after the break and clear chances came at a premium. Harry Charsley spurned a half chance to seal it for the home side, while Iwobi and Jack Jebb came closest to a reply for Arsenal.
The young Gunners did manage to pull a goal back 11 minutes from time after a flowing move started and finished by Iwobi gave the visitors hope.
But Everton's defence stood strong and the Blues hung on to register all three points.
Having had a dip in form, a pleased Sheedy was happy to pick up maximum points against the Gunners.
“We have had a couple of poor results lately in the league so we wanted to get back to winning ways,” he said.
“Arsenal are a strong side with some good individual players so it was a real good test for us.
“The conditions were atrocious. There were gale force winds and the players had to leave the pitch because it turned to hail stones at one point.
“For Arsenal's goal, they ran straight through our defence and the boy slotted it well. It was a poor goal to give away from our point of view. It gave them a big lift but we defended well and hung on for the win.”
Sheedy also paid tribute to his players who have had a busy schedule of late. “It is a big ask for them at the minute,” he added.
“The work load is really high but we are careful with them in training. With most of the lads bouncing between the Under-18s and the -21s we are really stretched.
“But the players have shown a great attitude and whatever team we put out they have been very competitive.”