Everton U21s v Stoke U21s
Everton Under-21s climbed into the top half of the league table with a richly deserved 2-0 win over Stoke City at the Merseyrail Community Stadium.
Conor McAleny’s brace secured maximum points for the young Blues, who moved up three places to 11th in the standings following the impressive performance.
The 21-year-old striker provided evidence that he is very nearly back to his best after recovering from a broken leg with well-taken goals in each half.
He bent a superb shot into the top corner shortly before the interval and then sealed victory 13 minutes from full-time after bursting through the visitors' defence.
Alan Stubbs’ side, which contained eight players with senior first-team experience – including Apostolos Vellios, Magaye Gueye and John Lundstram – simply had too much quality for their opponents, who could have no complaints at the outcome.
The result means Everton have now recorded back-to-back wins and are perfectly poised to make an assault on the teams above them in the table with games in hand and, just as importantly, momentum on their side.
Everton deservedly led at half-time through McAleny’s superb opening strike on 38 minutes.
The striker had earlier fired narrowly wide, as had Gueye, before he broke the deadlock with a goal not too dissimilar to his effort at the Reebok Stadium two weeks earlier.
McAleny got hold of the ball outside the box and curled an inch-perfect 20-yard effort into the top corner of the net, leaving Stoke keeper Daniel Bachmann’s with absolutely no chance.
The lead was completely merited too as Blues had bossed the game until that point, with Lundstram – on his first appearance since returning from a loan spell at Yeovil – orchestrating play from midfield.
Stoke offered slightly more after falling behind but the Blues’ resilient and well-organised defence meant that Polish goalkeeper Mateusz Taudul, on his return from injury, didn’t really have a save of note to make in the first half.
The closest the Potters came to levelling the scores before the interval was when Eddy Lecygne curled a free-kick from outside of the box into the side-netting.
Shortly before the half-time whistle was blown, Vellios found himself in a good position but was unable to direct his shot on target, with the ball flashing narrowly wide of the left-hand post.
Everton’s dominance continued into the second half as they pressed forward to extend their advantage.
McAleny was close to doubling his account 10 minutes after the restart but he was denied by a fine low save from Bachmann, before he placed the follow-up attempt just past the upright.
The Blues continued to force Stoke onto the back-foot, winning several corners, all of which just lacked a finishing touch when delivered invitingly from Luke Garbutt.
The visitors were restricted to very little and when they did manage to get within distance, they were foiled by the stubborn centre-half combination of Matthew Pennington and Tyias Browning who both made vital interceptions inside the penalty area.
The three points were rubber-stamped on 77 minutes when Lundstram played a ball behind the Stoke defence, allowing McAleny to get goal-side and convert past Bachmann, despite not making clean contact on his finish.
There was no way back for Stoke from then on in as Everton comfortably saw the game out.