Everton Under-21s head coach Paul Tait is expecting a “physical and psychological test” when his side open their EFL Trophy campaign on Tuesday.
Live on evertontv, the young Blues' clash against Doncaster Rovers (kick-off at 7pm BST) will be available to stream for free for Official Members, Lounge and Season Ticket Members.
The opposition, who will host the Toffees at the Eco-Power Stadium, will be familiar to Everton fans after their Carabao Cup tie against Sean Dyche’s Senior Team last month.
Everton’s quality eventually shone through against the League Two outfit in late August, but Doncaster performed impressively, and Tait recognises the challenge that awaits his Under-21s.
“They’ll be physically ahead of us, well-organised and they’ll be direct in their style of play,” said Tait, speaking to evertonfc.com. “That’s what you have to expect when you play against a men’s team, and we have to be ready for that.
“As we saw against the Senior Team, they like to mix it up. It’ll be a really tough physical and psychological test, which really is the beauty of this competition. It’s a great environment to go to test yourself against experienced league players and to play against all the challenges that brings.”
Tait revealed talented defender Eli Campbell will be back in contention after returning from his injury. Campbell, along with several other regulars for the Under-21s, has been sidelined during the start of the campaign.
👏 | Stanley Mills scored his first goal for @OUFCOfficial on Saturday in the U's impressive 3-0 win at Fleetwood.— Everton Academy (@EvertonAcademy) September 18, 2023
Here's a round-up of how our loanees fared across the weekend's action:
Those absences have provided opportunities for members of Leighton Baines’ Under-18s squad to feature for the Under-21s, and, before discussing the benefits of that step up, Tait provided an injury update on his squad.
“We’ve got Eli back,” said Tait. “Kyle John is close and should be back for our game against Norwich. Liam Higgins should return the next few weeks and then after that, we’re hoping Sean McAllister will be okay by the end of September. Surely, but steadily, we’re starting to get a few of them back now.
“When players are injured, others get an opportunity and that’s what’s happened. I think Jack Butler and Brad Moonan have probably been the main two, who have played more than we anticipated, but that’ll stand them in good stead for the future.
“It’s probably a bit early in their development to be playing Under-21s football every week, but they’ve been asked to do that and they’ve done it well. The development positives for that are great because they will have realised the step up and seen the standard of the players we’re up against.”
Tait often highlights the primary importance of maintaining individual player development, while still trying to win games.
He explained his outlook ahead of the cup tie, adding: “I think we always want to win, but it’s not like everything goes out the window just to win. The top teams now will talk about their processes because it’s not just about trying to win their next game – they’re trying to build something to last. That’s what we’re trying to do with these players in terms of their development.
“In youth football in the past, you’d get to gameday and forget everything you’ve worked on because you’re just trying to win, whether that’s your principle of play, your game model, your individual objectives; they all just take a back seat because you’re trying to get the three points. You may end up winning but, really, what have you ended up with?
“Having said that, we all want to win, and we never want to get away from that. We try to breed that every day, in terms of that winning mentality and that probably does become more important in these types of games.”