Everton Under-23s assistant boss John Ebbrell says the squad look “fit, sharp and hungry” as they prepare to launch their Premier League 2 campaign at Blackburn Rovers next Monday.
Ebbrell also praised Jarrad Branthwaite’s performance after he made his injury comeback in the Under-23s’ friendly against Southport on Saturday – and explained why in-form striker Lewis Dobbin’s First-Team appearance at Manchester United was richly deserved.
The young Blues wrapped up their pre-season fixture programme with a 2-1 success at National League North side Southport, with clinical strikes from Charlie Whitaker and Sean McAllister sealing a come-from-behind victory.
The majority of this season’s Under-23s squad is made up of teenage players who were part of the Under-18s group last term – and Ebbrell says he has been greatly encouraged by their displays in training and in matches this summer.
Everton Under-23s have delivered a series of vibrant attacking performances across their warm-up games, having also beaten Warrington Rylands, Guiseley, Bradford Park Avenue and Chorley.
Speaking to evertonfc.com, Ebbrell said: “We’ve played some teams who have posed different challenges to us. They’ve been physical sides and it’s been men’s football.
“They’ve been good games because we’ve attacked and really gone at teams.
“Of course, we like to be defensively organised, too, and stand up to different challenges, which the players have adapted to really well.
“We’ve played some really good, exciting football. Overall, it’s been a terrific pre-season. In each game, there has been some excellent stuff and an improved understanding of how we're looking to play.
“We’ll have games coming up thick and fast [in Premier League 2] but the players look fit, sharp and hungry.
“They are driving each other on. We are a younger squad than we’ve ever been, which is exciting. They are a very coachable group.”
The Southport contest represented centre-back Branthwaite’s first match since he lined up for Blackburn Rovers in a 2-1 victory over Derby County on 16 April.
The 19-year-old centre-back spent the second half of last season on loan at the Championship outfit, where he played 10 matches, but saw his campaign cut short by an ankle injury.
⚽️A good end to end game today with Everton U23's just edging it 2-1.— Southport Football Club (@southport_fc) August 7, 2021
Goal Action ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/cZMB14prRp
Ebbrell was impressed by how Branthwaite stood up to the test in his comeback game.
“Jarrad was a terrific in the game,” he said. “He has had some time out, so it was great to get him back on the pitch,” he added.
“He did absolutely fine and played for about an hour. He’s a great lad and he just needs minutes on the pitch, so that match will be important for him.”
Striker Dobbin, meanwhile, featured for the final quarter-of-an-hour as the Everton First Team took on Manchester United in front of a 55,000-strong crowd at Old Trafford.
The 18-year-old has been in sensational form for Everton Under-23s throughout pre-season, scoring 10 goals across five matches, including three hat-tricks.
As well his goalscoring exploits, Ebbrell says Dobbin’s commitment to improving his all-round game makes him “a joy to work with”.
“He’s deserved the time he got with the First Team and the chance to play in front of a big crowd at Old Trafford,” he added.
“He’s looked so sharp and scored so many goals.
“It’s great to get this confidence in the bag and he’s showing so much potential, and I love how he’s worked so hard for the team.
“He’s been a team player and pressed from the front. He’s been really unselfish – but been selfish when he’s needed to be to score goals.
“He’s just got to keep that going. The next stage for him is to push on even further and we’ll be here to help him achieve that.”