Not the finest of games, to be truthful. City never really got going on a horribly miserable night in East Manchester. It was cold, dreary and wet, as it always seemingly is at the CFA, and the game went through the motions for the vast majority of the night. City didn’t deserve a defeat, but at the same time, it perhaps wasn’t really a game that either team deserved to win in what was a rather forgettable encounter. It was an interesting lineup though – Angelino returned, pulling on a blue shirt for the first team since his loan move from New York City. Likewise, Brandon Barker also made his first appearance after his spell at Rotherham came to an unceremoniously abrupt end. They reunited their strong partnership down the left, while over at right-back James Horsfield stepped in for Pablo Maffeo as he finalised the details of his loan move to FC Girona. Ash Smith-Brown stepped in at centre-back alongside Ellis Plummer in the absence of Adarabioyo and Humphreys, and ahead of those two sat Aleix Garcia as he anchored the midfield alongside George Glendon and Bersant Celina. Jorge Intima started on the right-wing and David Faupala stepped in upfront with Ambrose injured and Nmecha away ahead of the FA Youth Cup tie.
There wasn’t much of note in the first half. City dictated play, controlling the ball for most of the 45 minutes, but they couldn’t really break down an Everton defence that was all too happy to sit back and absorb the pressure. Celina did have a half chance, firing into the keeper’s hands after a scuffed Intima shot had fallen to him. Intima himself could have also scored, hitting the sidenetting after some nice linkup play between Horsfield and Faupala. Everton had their own golden chance too, but City were thankful to Angus Gunn who smartly kept out the visitors after a goal-mouth scramble, which kept the scores level at the break. Parity didn’t last long though, and the game’s solitary goal came immediately after the restart. Everton scored what was to be the eventual winner after thirty seconds, and it wasn’t pretty. A ball broke loose after a cross from the left, and a scuffed half-volley trickled in at the near post. It was disappointing, and despite City’s best efforts they couldn’t level proceedings. City did up the tempo, and Bersant Celina came the closest. He was left scratching his head after he somehow managed to strike the post from barely 5 yards. Isaac Buckley had done all the handwork, his pace had expertly taken him to the byeline and his pull-back deserved better. There was a few other promising moments, Barker in particular caused a bit of trouble down the left, but his lack of recent match practice meant his radar wasn’t quite as fine-tuned as normal and his final ball was lacking. It wasn’t to be and the game finished 1-0 to Everton.
It wasn’t a vintage performance, but it was understandable given the rather thrown together nature of the team. There was some positives. Barker, though initially rusty, and he did a pretty torrid first half, grew into the game and he looked like something approaching his usual brilliant best as he created three or four opportunities good moments with some powerful bursts forward. Angelino, too, looked a sprightly presence, clearly refreshed after a few weeks rest following his loan. He looked confident, and there was some of his trademark attacking forays as he tried to get City going. Aleix Garcia only lasted the first forty-five, but he was an assured, firm presence in the centre of midfield. He’s adapting to English football well and he’s clearly getting to grips with the more physical nature of the game. He’s clearly an exceptional footballer technically, and if he can add an almost Gareth Barry-esque cleverness to his game then he’ll be some prospect. Jorge Intima had a mixed game – the Portugese winger offered plenty of energy down the right, and his work rate was admirable, as it always is, but he also guilty of wasting a good chance. His delivery let him down when it mattered too. It didn’t really happen for Faupala. He ran the line well up top, but there was little for him to go off or run onto as City struggled to find space between the lines. Celina, clearly on a high from the weekend, looked lively, though it didn’t quite come off the technically gifted midfielder. There was a lack of any real intelligent movement around him on a night not really built for one touch intricacy. He should’ve scored though, and 9 out of 10 times he probably would have.
Glendon looked infinitely more comfortable when he was moved back to the holding mid position at half-time. He wasn’t bad as such in a more advanced position, but he perhaps isn’t the most natural of attackers and he reads the game well from a deeper position. Sinan Bytyqi sat just ahead of Glendon after he came on for Aleix Garcia at half-time, and it was something of a surprise to see him in the heart of midfield. He’s usually lined up out wide, or just off the striker, but he was a little deeper here as he looked to influence the game from the centre. He’s got the physique for it now at least. That spell on the sidelines has clearly seen him spend some time in the gym. He’s bigger, clearly. It wasn’t a notable runout, but he’s far from match fit so patience is needed, but his potential reinvention could be fascinating to witness. Horsfield had a good, solid game at right-back. He wasn’t tested much defensively, but there was a nice burst forward in the first half that lead to a chance that Intima squandered. Smith-Brown in the middle had a relatively solid game, likewise Plummer, but in truth they had little to do. A couple of stray passes aside, both were content to receive the ball from Gunn in a low-key night. Fernandes looked positive in his brief runout, dropping his shoulder with the same purposeful elegance he always does in the u18s, and Buckley, the u18s leading scorer this year, underlined his growing promise with a sprightly runout. He should’ve created the equaliser, but Celina squandered his good work as mentioned earlier. It was a night to forget in the end though for Simon Davies’ EDS team, but with all eyes firmly on the FA Youth Cup trip to Leeds on Thursday night, it was hard to expect too much else. That game at least should bring a few goals. Fingers crossed.