The season-that-we-will-want-to-forget has finally finished, and yet, particularly but not exclusively because of the last few weeks, Evertonians will at least look back on this game as an “I was there” moment. Whilst we rightly celebrated the past with an emotional farewell to Tim Howard, we also got a bit excited about the future as well. And not just the future represented by the young players on show.
But it was the starting line-up with 17 year old Tom Davies and 18 year old Kieran Dowell both in midfield, that immediately got fans chatting about what these kids can do. The positively ancient 21 year old Matthew Pennington started again, but the Goodison curse of the hammies saw him replaced after half an hour by the just-19 year old Jonjoe Kenny, to join Stones (21), Lukaku (23, just), and later to be joined himself by Barkley (22). Blimey. If it wasn’t for McCarthy (25), Mirallas (28), Baines (31), Jagielka (33), Howard (37), and Barry (seems like he’s been around for ever, so he must be 87, but he’s actually only just 35), you’d have been forgiven for thinking you were watching the U21s on a run out in a dead rubber Europa League game.
The future is indeed bright. We know about the others, but let’s focus a bit on the newbies. I thought Davies was excellent. The BBC website gave Dowell MotM, but whilst he was good, Davies was better. Excellent in fact. He covered loads of ground, gave simple passes when simple passes demanded it, some sublime link up play, some expansive passing, tough in the tackle, and some enviable trickery to show older heads how it’s done. He’s 17. Let that sink in. He’s 17. Someone should check his passport, because he showed a level of skill, but just as importantly such maturity that belied his tender years, I was really impressed, and the Goodison crowd lapped it up as well. Dowell has seen more Everton headlines of late because of his seeming inability to nudge a goal in off his backside in the 6 yard box, preferring a long list of long lobs over keepers or long range goals from outside the box. And he deserves his accolade. But yesterday saw a more complete all round midfield performance from one of the brightest prospects I’ve seen at The Old Lady in years. Good luck Tom Davies. He couldn’t stop smiling in all the post match interviews, stressing how much he “loved every minute” of his full debut, and that’s just what we wanted to hear – someone loving playing for Everton. And we loved him too.
Kieran Dowell does indeed deserve praise of the highest order for his performance too. The sublime flick and escape down the left wing and an almost perfect pass for Lukaku only just cut out by Brady, shows exactly what this kid can do. As he ran away from a hapless defender, his head was constantly up, looking to see where Rom was, and when would be the time to release it – and he nearly capped off a brilliant bit of play with the pass of the match. He’ll get an assist for his run at the Norwich back line that then set up McCarthy’s thunderbolt for the first goal, so lots of positives from him as well as Davies. He also got himself a standing ovation as he was subbed for Barkley after probably the best 70 minutes he’s spent on a football pitch, and when he did, it was in to the arms of one of his mentors, David ‘Rhino’ Unsworth, and Mr Sheedy wasn’t far away either. What was notable was the joy on Rhino and Dowell’s face!
Not sure the Lino was as impressed, but not sure you would be with that job.
I’ll come back to the ‘joy’ point in a moment, but just to end the point about giving youth a chance, Pennington’s withdrawal gave a chance to another young gun, Jonjoe Kenny, fresh from helping Oxford to promotion whilst there on loan. Pennington was equipping himself well, adding a bit of height that sometimes exposes us at Full Back, so when the 5ft 9in (but looks half that size) Kenny came on, I was expecting an array of back stick crosses to potentially expose both his and Baines relative lack of height. But both full backs, and especially Kenny, did fantastically well at cutting out crosses altogether, and added another dimension that overall made us look a bit more solid at the back.
I know, it was Norwich, already down, nothing for either team to play for on the face of it, so let’s not get too carried away, so at least the cynics will say. But put in to context the miserable week the Club has had, the miserable season we’ve endured, where any highs have quickly been eclipsed by deeper than deep lows, the players realised they had to win and to do so in a controlled and almost un-fussy way, albeit against a doomed opposition, was a significant achievement. It gives us something to smile about, something to look forward to (that even news about another failed ground project can’t dim), and just a little spring in the step. Joy was on tap on Sunday, not just the goals, not just the win, not just on Dowell’s face when he got a standing ovation, but even on McCarthy’s face when embraced by Unsworth after his own subbing after 53 minutes. And McCarthy never smiles. He makes Lennon look like Charlie Cairolli. Perhaps the mood shifted as the week progressed, so now the only way is up. Surely. Please?
My final comments must be reserved for the rather excellent man, Tim Howard. Football fans rather often miss the distinction between the man and the player. Very few would argue that Howard’s performances between the sticks in the first part of the season led to an uncertainty in the back line, and ultimately led to his replacement by a not-that-much-better-option-in-Joel. But what I rarely hear enough about is Tim Howard the man. A thoroughly decent bloke, who clearly loves Everton with all his heart, and who has given us 10 years of outstanding service as a player, and even better contribution to the Club. There’s something about goalkeepers. They have to be a bit nuts to do the job they do (Hi, Nev), but they seem generally to be an articulate bunch, slightly higher in IQ than your average footballer maybe, and Tim has been a proud advocate of our Club time after time, and he does this whilst managing his Tourette’s condition with admirable fortitude. He doesn’t hide his condition, and in fact goes out of his way to acknowledge it and to try and help educate others about it, and help those with it. We’ll miss his athleticism, we’ll miss his wonder stops, his agile saves, and his bonkers penalty-save celebrations. But we love you Timbo, and thank you.
That’s it then everyone. I get two months off for my good behaviour, off the press Refresh every 5 minutes on the News Now website to see who we haven’t got a hope of signing, but more realistically to see which new manager is going to take us in to another new era for Everton Football Club, and what he’s going to do with this excellent crop of young players melding them with the gnarled old pros, and seeing who else is going to join the family.
We are a great Club, we’ve had a crap season really, but as ever, we look onwards and upwards. Enjoy your summer.