It was a satisfying evening for Everton’s Under-21s as Katia Kouyate’s opener helped them cap a busy season of fixtures with a solid 1-1 draw against Fulham.
Assistant manager Keith Southern, in charge of the young Blues in the absence of manager Paul Tait who has overseen first-team duties this week, named a young squad containing five scholars for the Premier League 2 clash at Southport’s Haig Avenue.
Despite facing a more experienced Fulham side, Everton started with the kind of confidence you’d expect after two impressive back-to-back wins away to Southampton in the Premier League Cup last week and then the Brighton returned to league action on Sunday afternoon.
The Blues hit the ground running and took the lead within three minutes when Kouyate held off pressure from defender Devan Tanton to collect a long ball from Kyle John. The forward then struck his effort home early, catching goalkeeper Alex Borto cold as the ball hit the right en route to the bottom of the net.
The effort gave the ever-improving 19-year-old his sixth Under-21 strike of the season and his first in Premier League 2 action.
Provider John almost doubled the Blues’ lead minutes later after a good combination on the edge of the box with Okoronkwo, however, his final shot was too central and found the grateful arms of Borto.
Elijah Campbell was next to go close as the defender rose higher to meet Owen Barker’s corner but was unable to direct his effort on target.
It was a dominant start for the home side, but with their first chance of note, Fulham equalised.
In the 18th minute, Martial Godo received a ball at his feet inside the Everton penalty area, managed to deflect Reece Welch and towards goal, but the big defender recovered to block his shot on goal.
Unfortunately for him, the ball bounced into the path of Adrion Pajaziti, who placed the low ball past Zan Luk Leban.
Fulham’s goal lifted the needle on Everton’s game and the London outfit began to grow into the clash after their slow start. However, neither team managed to convert their spells of possession into substantial efforts on goal.
Until the game was approaching the break, when Callum Bates made a sweet volley from 25 meters that stung the hands of Borto who, despite stretching, managed to keep the ball away.
The beginning of the second half did not have the same intensity as the first, without either team being able to really hold on to the game and it took until the last 25 minutes for the game to revive again.
John, who proved a thorn in the away team’s side all night, doggedly broke down Everton’s right, evading challenges before driving into the middle of the pitch where he fed the ball to Mackenzie Hunt, that was unmarked on the edge of the area; his bias his effort was high and wide.
The visitors almost punished the Blues immediately afterwards when they broke down Everton’s left and sent a dangerous low cross into the box. The ball fell to the feet of Oliver Sanderson just four yards out, he tried to slide his effort under Lebanon from a tight angle but the 20-year-old stretched well to block the chance.
Minutes later, John was at the heart of the action again, sending a cross into the box that eventually reached Welch, but Borto matched his right-footed shot to tip it into the corner.
From the resulting set piece, goalscorer Kouyate jumped higher and saw his header tip over the crossbar as Everton firmly established themselves in the ascendancy.
Despite the Blues’ increasing dominance as the half wore on, Fulham remained a threat on the break and created some dangerous half chances, going closest with Godo’s effort on target with 12 minutes remaining end
The final moments of the game ticked away without any real goal action, leaving both teams to settle for a share of the spoils. The result leaves Everton seventh in the Premier League 2 table, level on points with sixth-placed Fulham.
“I think it’s a fair result,” Southern said evertonfc.com after the match “Two very good competitive teams playing in an end-to-end game and going head-to-head.
“I thought we could have done it towards the end with the big man at the back post, Reece. It was a good finish but the keeper made a great save. Zan has made some decent saves as well so I think a draw it was the right result.
“Going into the game we talked about where the space could be, especially with the two quick athletic players we have up top and it proved to be the case with the goal which was a lovely finish.
“I don’t think we took advantage of that start, we kind of sat back and stopped doing some of the things that made us successful, but it’s all a learning curve for these players.”
Source: Under-21s Held By Fulham