Too little too late as Ademola Lookman leads Everton to first Europa League win
A young and much-changed Everton squad ended their wretched Europa League campaign on a belated positive note as Ademola Lookman's and Nikola Vlasic's exciting attacks secured a 3-0 win against Apollon Limassol.
The seven substitutes, who had each yet to boast a minute of first-team football before this match, did not underline massive change for the team as Everton's core group was preparing for the upcoming Merseyside derby. Neither manager Sam Allardyce nor any of the starting XI from the 2-0 win against Huddersfield traveled to Cyprus for this match.
Ironically, in their stead, this mix of fringe players and young prospects delivered the elusive win and clean sheet that evaded the established first-team players in the previous five group games. In the end, finishing a very distant third to Atalanta and Lyon, Everton can only rue what might have been.
Everton possess considerably more spending power than in recent years, but there is much to admire about the continued supply of academy prospects supplementing the first team and the big-money signings.
On a night when this mishmash team confounded the style critics to fashion a 26-move that saw every player touch the ball in the build-up to the second goal, there were five players making their debuts in total. There were numerous encouraging performances from a starting XI with an average age of 23.
Three points and a clean sheet in the final group game cannot distract from the results and performances preceding this match. Four defeats and 15 goals conceded in five games tell a miserable tale. Even in victory, Everton exit the competition with the worst points tally by any English team in the Europa League group stage. Out of Europe by December was not in the script when Everton began playing in the qualifying rounds in July.
Manager rating out of 10
7 -- First-team coaches Craig Shakespeare and Duncan Ferguson oversaw a convincing win and the three-goal cushion allowed them to give three youngsters their debuts from the bench.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Joel Robles, 7 -- Slow to react to one early Apollon attack before settling down behind an inexperienced defence. Several good first-half saves helped Everton claim their first clean sheet of the group stage.
DF Beni Baningime, 6 -- His positioning was occasionally suspect in an unfamiliar right-back role, but the midfielder otherwise continued to show the determination and composure that has punctuated his recent appearances in midfield.
DF Morgan Feeney, 7 -- Making his full debut after a brief appearance against Atalanta in the previous group game, the young centre-back looked comfortable throughout and made a timely intervention in his own penalty area in the second half.
DF Muhamed Besic, 5 -- A liability in possession as needless dribbling and senseless decision-making frequently invited trouble, Besic failed to lead by example for the young and makeshift defence around him.
DF Harry Charsley, 7 -- The oldest of the debutants at 21, the midfielder performed admirably out of position at left-back and came close to a dream debut goal in the first half.
MF Davy Klaassen, 7 -- Approached the game with the right attitude and should be able to take confidence from this display. One superbly weighted through ball to Lookman in the first half showed the quality that has not been seen enough this season.
MF Morgan Schneiderlin, 7 -- Captain for the night, the midfielder provided a calm presence in the middle of the park, used possession tidily and swept up well in front of a young defence. This needs to be the start of a sustained improvement.
MF Nikola Vlasic, 8 -- His neat play created the opening goal for Lookman before a fine solo effort and composed finish sealed the win. Deceptively strong and boasting sharp footwork, the midfielder pressed his claims for playing time on Sunday.
MF Kevin Mirallas, 6 -- Close to adding his name to the goal tally on a couple of occasions, but the 30-year-old never quite seized control of the game or this opportunity in the manner expected.
MF Ademola Lookman, 8 -- A bundle of tricks and flicks, the young winger presented arguably the most convincing case for the upcoming Merseyside derby with two goals and a performance full of attacking intent.
FW Fraser Hornby, 7 -- Seemed to suffer stage fright when snatching at his one sight of goal, but the Under-18 striker recorded a promising debut, offering a physical presence and strong holdup play in the final third.
FW Nathan Broadhead, NR -- Involved in the third goal after creating another chance minutes earlier, the 19-year-old forward made a good impression on his debut.
MF Anthony Gordon, NR -- Late cameo saw the local-born 16-year-old midfielder become one of the youngest ever players to appear in the Everton first team.
DF Alex Denny, NR -- The fifth and final debutant joined the action in injury time.