Under-18s Suffer Cup Exit

Everton Under-18s run in the FA Youth Cup came to an end on Monday night as they were beaten 3-1 on the road by Watford.   

Leighton Baines’ side booked their place in the fourth round with an emphatic 3-0 victory over Reading at Goodison Park last month.   

The young Blues gave a good account of themselves in Hertfordshire, with Martin Sherif scoring a lovely second-half goal to draw the game level after Watford took the lead before the break. 

However, George Abbott headed the hosts back in front minutes later before Adrian Blake benefited from a huge slice of luck to see his strike deflect into the bottom corner of Sebastian Jensen's net to seal the win and Everton’s exit from the competition.  

The contest started in a scrappy fashion, with both sides visibly feeling the nerves of the occasion at Vicarage Road.   

Slowly though, possession play started to tighten up, and Everton’s first sight of goal came as the game approached the 10th minute.   

Halid Djankpata dribbled the ball into the path of attacking teammate Sherif who was lurking on the edge of the box, he attempted a swift first-time effort that just whisked wide of Gabriel Ortelli’s post.   

Watford responded to that scare emphatically. With 12 minutes on the clock, Jack Grieves found himself free in the box to meet an Aaron Benn cross from the right, the youngster's stunning volley flew into the top corner of Jensen’s net, giving the Blues goalkeeper no chance.   

The hosts were noticeably buoyed by the strike and enjoyed the lion’s share of possession in the minutes following. They nearly doubled their advantage midway through the half when Andres Aguliar hit a curling free-kick that was parried away well by Jensen.   

Almost immediately after, Everton went up the other end and nearly drew level. Okoronkwo collected the ball out wide and inside the Blues’ half before breaking at speed up the pitch. He slid in Sherif to go one-against-one with Ortelli, but the Everton forward dragged his effort wide.   

This chance sparked Everton into life, with Roman Dixon looking particularly dangerous out on the right. Watford were guilty of giving the right-back too much space and time.   

He nearly made them pay with a stunning mazy run from the halfway line into the Watford box, dancing through several challenges along the way. His shot though was saved by Ortelli, and then Okoronkwo failed to keep control of his effort from the rebound as it sailed high over the bar.   

Everton continued to pile the pressure on in the closing stages of the half with Okoronkwo and Djankpata going closest.   

The latter had the best chance of the two to draw the game level just before half-time, meeting a corner from six yards out, however, the ball bounced off the wrong side of his head and over the bar.   

He was replaced at the break by Callum Bates and there was noticeably more intent behind Everton’s play in the second half when compared to the beginning of the first.  

Despite this though, chances were very much at a premium until the game entered the final 30 minutes when Everton finally drew level.  

Okoronkwo peeled off towards the back zone to meet a corner and head it back across the goal where Sherif spun marvellously on the spot to lash a powerful shot past Ortelli.  

It was a deserved equaliser for the Blues, however, just minutes after restoring parity, Watford’s Abbott rose highest from a wide free-kick swung into the box to head into the bottom corner and put the home side back in front.   

Watford grabbed a gut-wrenching third with 20 minutes to go as Blake struck what was initially a tame shot from distance, the effort cruelly bounced off the foot of Ishe Samuels-Smith, consequently sending Jensen in the wrong direction before trickling into the net.   

Jacob Beaumont-Clark joined the action in place of Barker soon after as Baines tried to orchestrate a response to his side’s bad luck, yet it was the home side who went closest to finding the game’s next goal.   

Blake looked certain to score a second when he struck a curling shot from distance, however, a fully-stretched Jensen managed to tip the strike onto the bar to keep the Blues in the game.   

Baines made a further change late on with Isaac Heath replacing Anthony Apter, yet despite their best efforts the Blues couldn’t find a route back into the game.   

Speaking to post-game, Baines said: "It was something I touched on before the game and it took us twenty minutes or so to get going. 

"When we equalised we were the team doing the pressing, creating the chances and the game was there for us so it was disappointing to concede a second goal so early.

"Then we got done with a sucker punch for the third goal and gave ourselves too much to do. The players are hurting and they should be because this is a competition that we wanted to do well in but it’s a learning curve for them and hopefully, they’ll learn from tonight."

The young Blues return the action this Saturday (GMT 11:00am) when they travel to Kirkby to take on rivals Liverpool in the mini-derby.