David Unsworth previews Everton Under-23s’ Premier League 2 match against Chelsea at Southport’s The Pure Stadium on Saturday (2pm), with the fixture being dedicated to the Kick It Out equality campaign.
After last week’s loss at Derby, what response are you looking from your team this weekend.
I’m hoping, I’m expecting, a massive response from every individual player and from the team. It’s a great game for us in that respect. Chelsea are the league leaders, unbeaten in the division, and are always a top team so they really shouldn’t need much motivation. It's a perfect chance for us to respond.
You always have your dips in football but now it’s up to my players to stand up and prove what good young players they are.
Bouncing back from defeat is a key part of their development, isn’t it?
Yes, it has been interesting this week in training. It’s been outstanding, probably the best week I have seen this season from this group of players and sometimes you need a jolt or a shock and some harsh words - harsh, honest words - to galvanize the group again. We’ll freshen it up, we will hopefully introduce a couple of younger players and we will try to have a look at a change of system. We will do what we can as coaches but when those players step over that white line they have to take a responsibility to perform in a way that we expect at this Club.
You said at the start of the season that this is a less-experienced team from the one that won the league and cup last term. How do you view the progress so far?
Up until the past couple of weeks, they had surprised us in terms of performances and the results. They have done great and they’re learning all the time. Yes, we have lost arguably some of our best players in terms of [loanees] Josh [Bowler], Nathan [Broadhead] and Fraser [Hornby], while Bass [Sambou] moved on - key attacking players - but we replaced them with players we believe in who have shown they are good enough for this level.
We are always looking for a level of consistency and that is what young players have to grasp, very, very quickly to gain opportunities at first-team level. They have to perform at a consistent level, week in, week out in Under-23 games. That’s where they are judged. We strive for perfection and we strive for great performances everywhere, every week.
How promising is it for you to see the likes of Anthony Gordon, Lewis Gibson, Beni Baningime and Dennis Adeniran training regularly with the first team?
Fantastic. It’s good to see Beni training with the first team again. It was tough for him last season after his injury and his lost his way a bit, which can happen with a younger player, but he’s shown a great attitude, he’s been outstanding in his performances for us and is getting back to the level he was when he made his first-team debut.
With Beni, Anthony, Lewis and Dennis all training regularly with the first team, it’s a fantastic opportunity for them, not just to get use to first-team football but to improve with some of the best players in the world.
They have been given a great opportunity by Marco to be in his face every day, to say, ‘Look, I’m here, I am good enough for your squad’, and when they drop back to the Under-23s they have got to be the best players as they have to repay the faith shown by Marco.
Tomorrow’s game against Chelsea is an official Kick It Out fixture. How important to you is equality in football?
I watched the recent Bulgaria v England game and couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was so saddening to hear in 2019. I thought the England players and staff managed the situation brilliantly and a lot of credit must go to Gareth [Southgate] and his staff for the way they behaved and the responsibility they took during the game.
Kick It Out has been going for more than 25 years and the people who have worked for and championed this campaign do a fantastic job. The discrimination we continue to see at all levels of the game proves the sport needs an organisation like Kick It Out now more than ever.
It saddens me that we have to talk about discrimination as we live in a multi-cultural society but I am honoured that our club can play its part in helping to ensure football is for everyone and that the message is clear that racism has no place in our society.
It’s important for me, as a human being, it’s important for the players, the staff, the Football Club, the Premier League - it’s important for everybody connected with football.
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