City progressed to the final eight of the EFL Trophy last night with a win against Everton U21s that was not as routine as the scoreline suggests.
Anyone who complains about not seeing goals at the Bank but doesn’t go to these games is missing out, as a strong Imps side came out on the right side of a six-goal thriller. Anyone who has watched U21 teams against the Imps regularly will know often there’s a difference in strength, maybe even in application. That wasn’t the case last night; one or two of these Everton youngsters will almost certainly pop up in our division next season, as they’re clearly ready for the physicality which comes with senior football. It was an engrossing affair that sadly features in a poorly attended competition, meaning many did not, or will not, get to see what happened.
The evening had a genuine cup-tie feel, the freezing weather and a slightly different line-up, but there’s no doubt we went strong. The financial value of the competition is significant, even if the money grabbed from the gate is not. Winning last night netted the Imps £40,000, which goes with the £20,000 for the last round and the £20,000 we took from the group stage wins. That’s decent money, but last night, it was money we had to work hard to earn.
Before we go on, let’s make one thing clear – last night was cold, and for players like Jordan Wright, it was a mental test as much as anything. Despite the freezing conditions, he had to stay alert with little to do in the first half but still be ready when called upon. It wasn’t just a battle against one of the strongest youth teams we’ve played; it was a battle against the elements, a night where patchy, freezing fog swept across the ground, where the £40,000 didn’t come served on a silver platter. In the end, the Imps are just two games from Wembley, but a warm April afternoon seemed a million miles away as a strong City team walked out onto the field.
As is customary for this competition, there were changes. Wright came in, as did Roughan and Eyoma, two players and the cusp of the first team. In central midfield, Lasse Sorensen got a start, but Jacob Davenport was absent from the squad again. Tom Hopper replaced Ben House, whilst Danny Mandroiu also got his first start since returning from injury, whilst long-term absentee Jordon Garrick was also back amongst the subs, hoping for his first action since our 1-1 draw with Accrington.
The game was played at a decent pace, and as I’ve mentioned, Everton certainly looked like a better prospect than Newcastle a few weeks ago. They were playing a strong City side, who started the game brightly. Indeed, in a steady but interesting first half, the game’s only goal went to us. Matty Virtue should be credited – he won the ball back quickly, stopping an Everton break and found Danny Mandroiu, whose cross was controlled by Regan Poole. The full-back confidently fired into the back of the net, despite the keeper’s best efforts, to give the Imps a 1-0 lead.
There didn’t feel like a lot of danger at the other end, even if Everton did carry an air of menace. The attacking momentum showed that we were the dominant side, but we didn’t create anything hugely clear-cut. Adam Jackson had a header he put over and a scuffed shot, whilst Virtue also tried a couple of pot shots. We might not have been clinical, but we were comfortable;e.
If anything, we rested on our laurels a little, and despite not being majorly troubled, it did feel like we could have upped a gear through the first period. Mark Kennedy felt that as well – he said afterwards he tore into his players at half time for not playing better. 1-0 up in challenging conditions, and he claimed it is the first time he’s ‘lost it’. Given the reaction after the break, it might be the last.