Wolverhampton Wanderers U21s v Everton U21s
Everton Under-21s began the new league season in the best possible fashion by securing a 2-0 win away at Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Second-half goals from Hallam Hope and Conor Grant gave the Blues a deserved victory at Telford’s New Bucks Head Stadium.
Hope netted at the second time of asking from close range on the hour mark and Grant clinched the win with a superb left-foot free-kick 15 minutes before full-time.
Everton defended excellently to preserve a clean sheet – although the hosts twice had the ball in the net after half-time, only for the goals to be both ruled out.
Alan Stubbs selected virtually the same starting line-up that held Real Betis B to a draw in Spain last week, the only exception being the inclusion of Ibou Touray at left-back following Luke Garbutt’s late call up to the England Under-21s squad.
It was an equally youthful team named by Wolves, although transfer listed Jamie O’Hara was handed a start in central midfield.
The former Portsmouth and Tottenham man influenced much of the early play as the home side started brightly with some incisive moves.
Goalkeeper Mateusz Taudul was alert to several slide-rule passes in behind the Everton defence, making one notable save after forward Sam Whittall had managed to divert the ball towards goal with a toe-ended prod.
Taudul saved again from O’Hara before he produced a splendid stop to tip midfielder Jack Price’s long distance attempt over the bar.
The first half was a relatively even affair with Everton also offering plenty when in possession after getting a grip of the contest. Chris Long was the Blues main source of ingenuity and, indeed, he came closest to giving the young Blues a half-time advantage.
The England youth international had already supplied an inviting ball through the six-yard box and slashed wide from 20 yards when he struck both posts with an effort on 38 minutes.
Collecting a cross from the left, his scuffed shot hit the frame of the goal, rolled along the line before ricocheting off the opposite upright.
Everton continued this positive momentum into the start of the second half. Francisco Junior curled over the bar and no Blues player could benefit when Touray advanced from left-back and delivered a teasing low centre.
The deadlock was deservedly broken by Everton on the hour mark when Hope pounced inside the box to ram home a loose ball.
Jonjoe Kenny's cross wasn't dealt with by the Wolves rearguard and Hope converted from eight yards out after his initial header had been parried by goalkeeper Jon Flatt.
Wolves came fighting back and were unfortunate to see a goal disallowed for offside when McAlinden tapped home after Taudul had palmed a long-range effort onto the bar.
The win was secured with a quarter of an hour remaining when Grant netted with a free-kick straight off the Finch Farm training pitch.
The midfielder played a quick one-two with Matthew Kennedy and unleashed an unstoppable 25-yard effort that flew over the wall and into the top corner of the net.
Wolves ended strongly but Taudul capped an excellent night’s work – and a shut out - with another low save in the final minutes.
The young Blues will now aim to continue this encouraging start when they host West Ham United in their opening home match at Southport next Monday.