City’s u18s kicked off the new year in style yesterday, winning 1-0 against a strong Everton side. This was never going to be an easy game either; Everton are a consistently good outfit at u18s level, and this generation is no exception. Everton sat in 2nd place at kick off, six points behind City, but crucially the Merseysiders had two games in hand. They comprehensively out-played Wilcox’s men in the away fixture too, running out convincing 3-1 winners back in October. They would have felt rightfully confident going into the game, but thankfully it wasn’t to be for the visitors. This was a lot closer and in the end City were good value for the three points. There was a little rustiness evident, but it was understandable. This was the first game back for both teams after the enforced break that youth football takes over the Christmas period – naturally some lacked a little sharpness and the first half was played out mainly at arm’s length. It was cagey affair as both teams prompted and probed with caution, with most attacks breaking down before they really reached boiling point. There were one or two decent moments – Everton nearly broke the deadlock, Grimshaw brilliantly tipping a header from five yards out around the post. City went close themselves as Nmecha headed Sarmiento’s delightful cross just over, and Will Patching had a beautiful 25 yard effort tipped onto the crossbar from a free-kick. Davenport stung the keeper’s hands too with a rasping drive from just outside the area, but it stayed 0-0 at the break.
The second half was a much livelier affair. Whatever was said worked, and City sparked into life immediately from the kick-off. City moved the ball quicker and used the width better. The encouraging pair of Dilrosun and the new boy, Sarmiento, down the left caused all manner of problems and it nearly led to a the opener as a couple of perfectly whipped crosses flashed across the six yard box, with Nmecha glancing one just wide. Everton eventually regained their composure, nearly scoring themselves with Grimshaw coming to the rescue, saving well in a one on one down to his right, but the introduction of Brahim and Buckley once again turned the tide in City’s favour. Both are blessed with an abundance of skill and pace, and it was immediately evident. Buckley was very good, a real live-wire, impishly darting across the backline as he frequently tried to get in behind the defence, and he nearly had a goal too. He fired inches wide of the far post after he’d been played through on goal. Nmecha did eventually grab the winner, however, and it came courtesy of a spot-kick after he had been brought down in the area following some battling work from Dilrosun. He stepped up, dusted himself off and sent the keeper the wrong way. It proved to be the winner as City held out until the final whistle, and it was just about deserved in the end. City were stoic, worked hard, and though they were by no means at their silky best, it was a performance built on determination and a real admirable focus.
It was an interesting lineup with a few surprises. Nemane and Adarabioyo, both EDS regulars these days, both stepped down a level and started amongst side their fellow u18s. Elsewhere, Sarmiento continued at left-back, Bullock came back in at right-back and Oliver partnered Adarabioyo at centre-half, with Grimshaw between the sticks behind them. Davenport took up the holding midfield role and Kongolo and Patching lined up ahead of him. Out wide, Dilrosun and Nemane flanked Nmecha in the middle. There was no Fernandes as he linked up with the EDS ahead of their game on Monday. Duhaney sat out too, likewise Diallo continued his recuperation from injury. Humphreys was away on first team duties and Brahim, Wood and Kigbu only made the bench. Grimshaw was good in goal, making two excellent saves in a generally confident all-round display. He's clearly growing in confidence and this was an encouraging display from the local lad. He was helped by a towering display from Charlie Oliver ahead of him. Oliver's had a quietly impressive season as he's grown into the team and he was good here yet again, reading the game well and distributing confidently as City built from the back. He's always been a warrior, never shirking from challenges, but he's starting to develop a real solid understanding of the game, positioning himself well as attacks form. Encouraging stuff. Adarabioyo wasn't his usual self, disappointingly. It was a mixed performance from the England u19 centre-back, with his usually exceptional high standards falling a little short. He was twice turned far too easily by Everton's centre-forward and a little sloppy in possession. There was some good though, and one effortless last-ditch challenge highlighted his immense ability.
Sarmiento was once again promising at left-back in only his second start for the club. He’s clearly adept at going forward, a real natural footballer blessed with wonderful feet. He went on a few darting, mazy runs as he drove infield right at the heart of Everton’s defence and he was frequently the catalyst for City upping the tempo. Defensively there’s work to be done, as there tends to be with most attacking full-backs, but the talent is there and he should be some player when he fully settles into the English life. Bullock wasn’t at his all action best over on the right, but he did have his moments, linking up with Buckley in the second half and he defended well whenever Everton stepped it up. Davenport was good, sweeping up intelligently whenever the opposition tried to break. There was the odd moment where he perhaps naively followed the ball and not the man, but he’s a promising young player and he’s learning every week, and this was another nuanced, competent display. Kongolo was all effort, and there was one or two nice drives through midfield as he used his athleticism to run past Everton’s midfield.
Patching was solid, perhaps not at graceful best, yet he worked hard and did nearly get on the scoresheet with a moment of magic. Dilrosun was impressive on the left, working tirelessly and he gave their right-back a difficult time with his persistent strong runs. He’s become a real effective winger, something different to the vast majority of wide players these days, and it’s welcome to see. Nemane had a quiet game on the right before he was replaced by Buckley who got plenty of joy up against Everton’s tiring legs. Nmecha was decent, his movement as sharp as ever, though there was a few touches that did escape him, yet he continually worked well up front, frequently showing for the ball as he ran the line tirelessly. Brahim was only a second half substitute and he looked sharp, even if things didn’t quite come off for the gifted young attacking midfielder, but like the rest he played his part as City held on for a deserved win in what ended up a satisfying start to 2016 for Jason Wilcox’s u18s. City are now six points clear having played two more games, and we’ll likely top the North Division before the split is made in a few weeks time. Next up, a trip to Newcastle next Saturday.