An Everton XI battled to earn a 1-1 draw against Tranmere Rovers at Prenton Park on Saturday afternoon.
The pre-season fixture was being played simultaneously with the contest at Wigan Athletic and saw Sean Dyche in attendance to cast his eye over a young Everton team that grew into the first half against the League Two opposition.
However, a headed goal for Tranmere’s Conor Jennings made for a disappointing start to the second 45 minutes.
The Toffees found an equaliser with less than 10 minutes to go, after the Blues were awarded a penalty following a handball in the Tranmere box. Stanley Mills, Everton Under-21s' top scorer last season, stepped up and produced an assured finish from 12 yards out.
With the majority of Dyche’s regular starters featuring at the DW Stadium, the Blues team, led by Under-21s Head Coach Paul Tait, lined up with a youthful side in a 4-4-2 formation.
Lewis Dobbin and Francis Okoronkwo made up the strike partnership and were supported by a midfield of Mills, Lewis Warrington, Tyler Onyango, and Katia Kouyate. Goalkeeper Joao Virginia was behind a back four of Liam Higgins, Mason Holgate, Ryan Astley, and Mackenzie Hunt.
Virginia was called into action after a quiet opening 10 minutes. The 23-year-old dived to his right to make a strong save from right-winger Kieran Morris, who was trying to capitalise on a well-worked Tranmere move.
The Blues’ shot-stopper made an even more impressive save from the resulting corner, quickly reacting to prevent the home side from taking the lead from the set piece.
The Toffees’ first chance arrived after 37 minutes, when Kouyate squared up his defender, stepping over the ball as he did so, before digging out a left-footed cross. The ball fell to Mills in the box and his right-footed shot forced McGee to produce an excellent save.
Five minutes later, a Tranmere attack created the best opportunity of the game. From the left, a long ball towards the back post was fired towards goal, requiring Virginia to scramble across to make a terrific stop.
The Blues then threatened at the opposite end of the field. Dobbin, dribbling through the centre of the pitch, tried to curl the ball towards the bottom right as he arrived at the edge of the box. Again, McGee was on hand to deny the Toffees.
Goalless at half-time, the Toffees were unchanged for the restart. However, they fell to an early goal.
Two minutes into the half, Jennings won a corner for the home side. Regan Hendry crossed in the ball from the right, and Jennings arrived at the front post to flick a header past a helpless Virginia.
Just over 10 minutes later, Dobbin nearly converted from an incredible solo effort.
The young forward collected the ball after Everton defended the opposition corner, and running through the middle of the pitch, he travelled the length of the field but was eventually prevented from shooting after a last-ditch tackle by Lee O’Connor in the Tranmere penalty box.
Onyango came close midway through the half as Everton searched for an equaliser, but, as they grew in confidence, spaces opened for the Tranmere counter-attack.
Billy Crellin, who came on for Virginia at the hour-mark, made an impressive save with 15 minutes to go, tipping away a low shot from the edge of the area.
Everton continued to push for their goal, and they eventually got their reward.
With seven minutes of regular time to go, a Tranmere handball in the box was spotted by referee Jarred Gillet. He pointed to the spot and up stepped Mills, who confidently fired the ball into the bottom-right corner.
Both sides could sense a winner, and the game was closely contested in the final few minutes. The Toffees searched for a second but ran out of time and the referee's whistle called the end to the action at 1-1.