Ellis Simms says improving every element of his game during a “dream” loan cushioned the blow of missing Blackpool’s League One play-off final success on Sunday.
Everton striker Simms scored 10 goals in 24 appearances – 19 starts – after switching to Bloomfield Road in January.
He struck twice in Blackpool’s 3-0 play-off semi-final victory at Oxford United but was ruled out of the Wembley decider against Lincoln City after hurting his groin on the eve of the match.
That cruel denouement to a productive four months was tough to take, admits Simms, who is due for a scan on the muscle he injured taking a training-ground penalty.
But the centre-forward, who maintained contact with a number of Everton figures – notably receiving one-to-one advice from Professional Development Coach Leighton Baines – during his time away, is convinced he’ll return to Goodison Park a more rounded footballer.
“About two months into the loan, Leighton and Franny [Jeffers, former Under-23 coach] invited me to Finch Farm to go through some of my clips,” Simms told evertonfc.com.
“They showed me what I’d been doing well but also what I could work on.
“That was a massive help and gave me a lot of belief.
“I knew I had their confidence when I went back to Blackpool and managed to build on that and improve my performances from there.
“I was in touch with Marcel [Brands, Director of Football], Gretar [Steinsson, Head of Recruitment and Development], [Under-18 manager] Paul Tait and [Under-18 Assistant Manager] Keith Southern, too.
“They all supported me and gave me valuable bits of advice.
“I felt they were watching and that they cared about me.
“From the beginning of the loan to the end, I have improved so much as a player.”
Simms came off the bench to score twice on his Football League debut, in a 5-0 win at Wigan Athletic, and quickly secured a starting position under Blackpool manager Neil Critchley.
The centre-forward had a short period out of the team in March, playing only one minute in three matches, but proved impossible to dislodge following a goalscoring comeback at Swindon Town on 2 April.
The biggest challenges at Blackpool, admits Simms, came in the form of robust League One defences and Critchley’s preference for employing two strikers, after the player had gone it alone for a large part of his embryonic Everton career.
“Playing as a lone striker at Everton, I didn’t have to do as much defending,” said Simms.
“You have to work incredibly hard but in different areas.
“The manager at Blackpool wants both strikers to press and have good defensive positions, so was keen to work on my positioning.
“He wanted me constantly on the move and getting in better positions [out of possession], so when we won the ball, there was more space to run in behind.
“The football was a lot more physical, the centre-backs are stronger and more aggressive.
“I had to use my body and size and frame and the manager and his coaches were continually giving me advice to help with that.
“I just had to be a little bit cuter.
“If you can win free-kicks when a defender gets too tight, they might begin to stay off you a little bit.
“That is when spaces appear and you can get on the ball and spin and run at defenders.
“You have to be clever in how you use your body.
"And it is important to be focused for the entire game, your chance might come in the first minute or the 90th minute.
“I built a great connection with [fellow striker] Jerry Yates and when you score or play well, you take confidence into the next game and play with freedom.”
The lightning start to his Blackpool stay expedited the settling-in process after Simms and Everton mutually agreed a loan would best serve the player’s development.
Additionally, the north-west location enabled Simms to remain at his family home in Oldham and “focus completely on football”.
Simms scored 46 goals for Everton Under-18s in 2018/19. He had eight from 11 Premier League 2 starts for the Club’s Under-23s before the following season was curtailed and his 12 games for David Unsworth’s team in the first half of last term produced eight goals.
“I wanted to go on loan, I thought I was ready for the challenge of playing real men’s football,” said Simms.
“I turned 20 in January and it was the right time to make the next step.
“I am known for goalscoring at Everton, so scoring two on my league debut took that weight off my shoulders.
“It relaxed me and helped me settle.
“I scored goals at Under-18 and Under-23 levels because of my assets: my pace and power and strength.
“I wanted to continue using my strengths, making runs and using my body.
“And the goals don’t move.
“I wasn’t expecting to score in every game and knew there would be ups and downs.
“There will be times you find yourself out the team as you step up.
“I want to play every game but it is how well you adapt and react [when left out].
“You will get another chance and when you get back in the team, you need to try to stay in.
“When I had that couple of weeks on the bench, I continued working hard.
“I knew my opportunity would come again and I needed to take it.
“If I didn’t score, I didn’t let it affect me too much, it is a team game and I tried to contribute in other ways.
“I knew if I kept doing what I was, the goals would come."
Simms spends periods of his downtime analysing masters of the striking craft.
He studies Harry Kane’s “incredible finishing” and pays attention to the movement of Romelu Lukaku, who is “a similar build to me, powerful and strong and quick”.
And, says Simms, “I look at Dom [Calvert-Lewin], he has been getting into better positions and scoring a lot.
📸 Tonight's Man of the Match.— Blackpool FC (@BlackpoolFC) May 18, 2021
🍊 #UTMP pic.twitter.com/2Jos4Rkju4
“I have been watching his movements and trying to learn from him.
“He is Everton’s striker and that’s where I want to get to one day.”
Simms has trained with the Club’s First Team and been involved in four matchday squads after his first inclusion for a Premier League game at Sheffield United in July last year.
“The Everton players were all very welcoming, they helped me settle quickly and gave me a lot of advice,” said Simms.
“The key was to express myself when I got an opportunity to train with them.
“Travelling with squad gave me a little taste of what it is like as part of a first-team environment.
“It motivates you to want more – and I had an idea what to expect in a senior dressing room when I went on loan.”
Simms reserved his classiest Blackpool performance for a crushing play-off win over Oxford.
His first goal was rifled in following a clever piece of footwork in the penalty box and Simms completed a double by starting and finishing a breathless counter to essentially kill the tie.
He started the second leg – a 3-3 draw – but 24 hours before the final sustained an injury which limited him to the role of Wembley spectator.
“The lads were practising penalties after training, I took one and felt a sudden pain in my groin,” said Simms.
“It was a massive game and I was gutted to miss it.
“I tried everything but it was very painful and I couldn’t risk making it worse.
“However disappointing it was, I know there will be many more opportunities if I keep working hard and improving.”
Blackpool overturned a 1-0 deficit to beat Lincoln 2-1 and midfielder Kenny Dougall, who scored both the Seasiders’ goals, said a desire to win for Simms formed a substantial element of his team’s motivation.
💪 Squad.— Blackpool FC (@BlackpoolFC) May 30, 2021
🍊 #UTMP pic.twitter.com/QkxqlQao64
“Everyone was as upset as me, they knew how much it meant to me,” said Simms.
“They were telling me they wouldn’t have reached the final if it wasn’t for me… and they were eager to win for me, which is so nice.
“I was proud of every one of them.
“It is a team game, so we all celebrated together.
“The main thing was to get promoted.
“It is a dream, really. Even though I didn’t play in the final, I felt I played my part in the promotion.
“The injury is one of those things you can’t do anything about.
“You have to stay positive and I will be back stronger.”
Simms’ holiday plans will be determined by the outcome of his scan.
And he is content for Everton to take the lead on managing the next leg of his career.
“The main thing is to get back fit,” said Simms, who signed a three-year professional contract in the summer of 2019.
“It has been a great experience at Blackpool and I have loved playing.
“I am not sure what will happen next, it is up to Everton.
“But whatever it is, I am happy and just looking forward to next season and continuing to play.
“I am still young and learning.
“I am not the finished article.
“There are always things to improve and I need to build on my strengths.
“I can work on my runs behind, my hold-up play and link-up play and a lot of off-the-ball aspects, like defensive positioning.
“You can always get better.”