Kean On Target In Everton Win

The priorities for Everton in Florida weren’t necessarily focused on the outcomes of two matches at Orlando's Camping World stadium.

A necessity to get minutes in players’ legs was probably top of the list for these fixtures – and that box was conclusively ticked on Wednesday.

Rafael Benitez made nine changes at half-time and another three during the second half – including a first senior appearance for 17-year-old Charlie Whitaker.

This is a time of year for acquiring fitness and, with Benitez weeks into his reign, learning the methods of a new manager.

Winning is a good habit to get into, though, and for the second time in four days Everton came out on top of a fairly testing game.

And, just as against Millonarios on Sunday, Demarai Gray was influential in his side's win.

The forward, who joined from Bayer Leverkusen this month, had a terrific half of football.

The highlight came on 19 minutes, when Gray stole possession to transfer the ball into the path of Moise Kean for Everton’s goal.

Everton had more opportunities, Anthony Gordon and James Rodriguez both having efforts well saved after half-time.

Abdoulaye Doucoure was narrowly wide when he met a low cross and Alex Iwobi came close just before the interval.

Asmir Begovic and Joao Virginia had a half each in goal and made one sharp save apiece.

Gray came off the bench for an impressive turn at the weekend.

Here, he picked up where he left off, wreaking havoc down Pumas’ left from the beginning.

The Mexican team were unsettled by Gray’s pace and equally uncomfortable in possession during an opening passage of play dominated by Everton.

Gray controlled a wayward ball out of defence inside two minutes, skipping forward to cross for Kean.

The Italian used his chest to cushion the delivery but goalkeeper Julio Gonzalez, springing left, was equal to the effort.

Gonzalez was a match for Kean’s next attempt, too – but, for the persistent Everton striker, the third time was a charm.

A large slice of credit for the goal, however, goes to Gray, who had not long swapped to the left, with Andros Townsend journeying in the opposite direction.

Gray, like all the best forwards, scented opportunity where it wasn’t especially obvious, when Alan Mozo steered the ball back for Erik Lira.

Lira, the Pumas central midfielder, never looked happy receiving possession, enabling Gray to pounce and slip a pass inside centre-half Nicolas Freire.

Kean collected to stride into the box for a low effort partially stopped by Gonzalez, who got a hand to the ball but allowed it to squeeze underneath his body.

Out it popped, stopping dead in front of an empty net and inviting Kean to finish for his first goal in an Everton shirt since scoring in a Carabao Cup game at Fleetwood Town 328 days ago.

When Townsend was still on the left, there was a ball flashed across the face of goal from the winger – but no takers on that occasion.

Gray’s close control was outstanding wherever he was on the pitch.

And he provided a fine example of the art when receiving Seamus Coleman’s raking ball across field soon after Kean’s goal.

The football which preceded Coleman’s pass; a quickfire passing sequence featuring Tom Davies, Kean, Townsend and Andre Gomes was excellent.

Gray’s control and dash past Mozo? Even better. The Pumas right-back had two options: let Gray advance into the box or cut him down just short.

He opted for the latter – but the free-kick, taken by Lucas Digne, was cleared after arriving behind Michael Keane at the back post.

Pumas were on the back foot, save for striker Juan Dinenno. The powerful Argentine was strong-armed in dealing with Davies early on – and rightly penalised.

With the ball at his feet, 30 yards out, on 16 minutes, Dinenno took aim with a swerving effort which Begovic watched closely to push behind.

Jose Rogerio had a go from further out two minutes before half-time but no need for Begovic to intervene on this occasion, the ball travelling off target.

If it felt like Pumas were gaining a foothold, Everton altered that impression in the final exchanges before the break.

Kean was prevented from striding through following a Gomes pass by a very well-timed tackle and Iwobi, operating behind Kean, was narrowly wide after a skilful run through the middle.

Everton needed a spell to find their feet following the sweeping half-time changes of personnel; there was a switch to a three-man midfield, too.

Cristian Battocchio tried to exploit his opponents’ fleetingly disturbed rhythm, the Italian former Watford player skimming a drive past Virginia’s right post on 51 minutes.

The inked Dinenno missed in the same place after turning and shooting from 18 yards before Everton came back with a driving run from Nathan Broadhead, who eventually ran out of space after dodging a series of challenges in the box.

Gonzalez beat out a drive from Gordon after the forward was picked out by Doucoure.

Indeed, Gordon was surrounded only by thin air when he gathered Doucoure’s pass, a sign of Pumas’ declining resistance.

The Central Americans were beginning to leave generous gaps and Broadhead dashed into one of them on the right flank to cut back for Doucoure, whose first-time strike on the run flew wide of the near post.

Gonzalez in Pumas’ goal, meanwhile, was earning his corn.

A reaction save to deny James’s close-range effort after Gordon’s explosive burst down the left was excellent.

Virginia had been on the field 29 minutes before he was required.

And, like those big red buses mentioned in the well-worn adage, when one shot on target came along, another quickly followed.

Virginia saw a low attempt from Sebastian Saucedo late but tipped it round relatively easy.

Leonel’s Lopez’s strike from distance travelled through daylight but represented a far tougher ask for Virginia.

The Portuguese provided an efficient answer in the form of a big right glove which pushed the ball off target.

With Pumas making a wave of substitutions and going all out for an equaliser, the game was increasingly stretched.

Jonjoe Kenny’s underlapping run into the box was located by Doucoure but Gonzalez was swiftly out to close the angle.

Saucedo’s 30-yard fizzer swerved past Virginia’s left post on 88 minutes and Pumas’ race was run.

No prizes for Everton for winning this one, unlike the Florida Cup they claimed earlier on their Stateside visit, but the victory and clean sheet will be very welcome nonetheless.