By Matt Jones
Everton lifted the Premier League 2 trophy on Monday at Goodison Park despite a 2-1 defeat against a strong Liverpool side.
The Toffees, who were without key men Liam Walsh and Antonee Robinson because of injuries, conceded an early goal to Sheyi Ojo after a major error from Matty Pennington. The Reds doubled their lead before the hour-mark through Trent Alexander-Arnold and while substitute Calum Dyson gave Everton hope late on, they were eventually unable to draw level.
The loss sees Everton end the campaign three points clear of Manchester City, with Liverpool secure in third.
After a positive start from the Toffees sparked an impressive home crowd into life, the Reds were gifted the lead courtesy of a lapse in concentration from Pennington.
The centre-back attempted to scurry forward with the ball, but was quickly shut down by a couple of red shirts. Harry Wilson pinched possession from him and laid the ball into Ojo, who converted a routine finish from close range. It was a familiar Merseyside derby feeling for those in blue.
It nearly got worse. Ovie Ejaria slalomed through some challenges and flashed an effort just wide. Chins were buried in blue shirts at this point, with Unsworth’s men missing the steadying influence of Walsh at the hub of the side.
There was improvement from the hosts as the match rumbled on, though. Beni Baningime and Mo Besic begun to wrestle back some control of the game in midfield, while Joe Williams— who stung the palms of Kamil Grabara in the Reds goal, Kieran Dowell— who went close with a couple of free-kicks, and the vibrant Jonjoe Kenny were also growing in stature.
Encouragingly for the home supporters, the Toffees did finish the first period in the ascendency. Still, the composure and class needed to draw level was lacking.
It was still lacking after the break, as Everton were unable to mesh intricacy with their commendable industry. A Liverpool side containing plenty of familiar faces, meanwhile, were menacing in their forward forays. Eventually, they broke through again.
The Reds turned the ball over in midfield with the Toffees overcommitted. Marko Grujic ambled forward and rolled a pass into the path of the onrushing Alexander-Arnold; Mateusz Hewelt had no chance as he crashed a strike in from the corner of the box. The Blues were facing an uphill struggle with 30 minutes remaining.
Suddenly, an Everton team that has been bristling with gumption throughout the campaign was looking jaded against their authoritative visitors.
On a night that was all about the next generation, some youngsters in the stand decided they wanted some of the spotlight, as a peculiar pitch invasion punctured the contest. The young lads in red and blue quickly captured the focus again, though, as a nasty tackle from Jordon Williams was not well received by the Everton players.
It was a moment that livened up the crowd and breathed life back into the Everton players too. Kenny, in particular, was proving tough to contain for the Reds down the right and it was another burst forward from him that saw the Toffees halve the deficit.
The full-back’s cross dropped kindly to Dyson in the area, whose deflected shot wrong-footed Grabara. It was game on again, with Goodison roaring.
There was renewed belief for those in blue, as they pinned back Liverpool in search of what would have been a dramatic equaliser. Dowell came closest to a second for the Toffees, as his long-range strike was turned around the post by Grabara. But eventually the visitors clung on for three points.
Still, the disappointment didn’t last too long for those in blue, as they were handed the Premier League 2 trophy after full-time in front of more than 16,000 spectators.
Man of the Match – Jonjoe Kenny
It’s a huge shame the flying full-back will be away with the England Under-20 team for the final two Premier League games of the campaign, as he’s a young man who is ready to make a step up.
The defender was constantly on the march forward on the right flank, picked crosses out intelligently and showed great tenacity in his defensive work too. With Seamus Coleman sidelined for the long-term and Mason Holgate more at ease in the centre of defence, he’s given Ronald Koeman plenty to ponder with his promising recent form.