Nothing says second string like a starting XI fronted by a striker booked on a 6am Ryanair flight to Spain to start a season long loan. We’ve never really taken the Cara.. Cari.. Carling Cup seriously, and frankly we’ve got exactly what we’ve deserved from this competition – handballing Scottish shithouses aside of course. Even so, there was an air of inevitability to our lazy midweek swatting aside of a lower league side which I genuinely could not pick a familiar name from (he says, pretending he hadn’t already written the first two paragraphs of the reaction to our parallel universe 2-0 defeat). Not to be slightly disrespectful, but to be very disrespectful, Rotherham you’re a bunch of regens.
In the first half, Goodison Park seemed to be visited by the spirit of a recently departed comedian, except it wasn’t Barry Chuckle. it was Jim Bowen uttering those famous words “look at what you could have won” as Sandro marked what will probably be his only appearance in a blue shirt this season with a stellar performance. After feeling himself into the first ten minutes mostly mopping up well for Kenny at right back, the out of favour Spaniard produced a first half barrage of testing shots and wicked balls, one of which was gratefully poached by Sigurdsson to break the deadlock, with no need to call on the visiting Cylon referee. Compounding the confusion of losing a player seemingly hungry for his chance is the sight of cult figure Oumar Niasse, so called because only Charles Manson would have him in a Premier League squad, assured of his place in our 25 man submission to the powers that be next week. For all his likeability, many a chance went begging as the gangly Senegalese tripped over feet he didn’t knew he had or ran sideways into a brick wall of a centre half. For the life of me I can’t fathom jettisoning Sandro in favour of Niasse, but then it’s not my job to fathom it so in Marco we trust etc.
The centre half we’ve been crying out for has finally arrived and his middle name is happy. Kurt Zouma spent most of the first 45 mopping up every aerial ball sent in by the visiting Rotherham, who by the way wore one of the worst kits my eyes have ever been subjected to. I swear they looked like they forgot to take the training bibs off.
Happy’s good work didn’t go unpunished however, as the obligatory yard dog number nine put the elbow on him just before the break. On that note, a first look at Dowell in competitive action this season for me suggests he’s brought back some steel from his loan spell down the leagues, and he was having none of Rotherhams roughhousing. So too Holgate, who looks determined to stake a claim at centre half this year and has seemingly spent the summer bulking up.
Another full debutant tonight, Lucas Digne, showed promising early signs with a few clever dummied passes and balls fired across the box, though he’ll need to cool his jets somewhat as he produced more throw-ins than clear cut chances before the break. Captain for the night Tom Davies had a chance to stake his claim on that midfield berth, and speaking as a real fan of his I’m not sure he seized the opportunity with both hands. For every clever touch, there was a chance gone begging when a less hesitant midfield anchor would have ran onto the loose ball and charged forwards. He looked for the pass too often, but to give him the benefit of the doubt this was probably more down to a sense of responsibility as captain rather than genuine fear.
So on to the second half, and thank God no extra time any more. Sandro started the second half like he finished the first, firing in a bending cross from the right that the goalkeeper only just smothered before DCL got to it. Zouma continued to receive rough justice, taking a blow to the head whilst the referee happily waved the Rotherham attack through, albeit the toffees had one of their own before Davies passed the ball to the opposition goalkeeper to force the stoppage. A traditional Gwladys Street whinge about a minor technicality (in this case a drop ball) injected some life into the crowd and the tackles began to fly in, earning the blues a free kick 22 yards out. Gylfi clumsily hit it square into the wall, but the rebound fell fortuitously to Digne, who dutifully sent in an inch perfect cross for DCL to nod in at the back post.
Cue the first “sign on” chant of the evening from Sheffield’s turbo-brexit dog racing aficionado cousins. I don’t have the unemployment statistics to hand but I don’t fancy their chances in that particular game of Top Trumps. Shortly after, Gylfi departed the field to as close to a standing ovation as you’re going to get on a Wednesday night against Rotherham – and good value for it. Walcott on. Just a mention for Jonjoe Kenny because I haven’t already. It would be easy for the lad to sulk or rest on his laurels given that Captain-by-Acclamation Seamus Coleman sits in front of him in the pecking order. But tonight he genuinely looked like he wants to, and is more than capable of, giving the Irishman a fight for that spot.
As the game wore on things got a bit ragged in all departments. Rotherham enjoyed more of the ball, a few free headers and hits, and a stream of stewards made for the divide between the traveling orcs and the majestic elven noblemen of L4. No doubt they’ll return heroes and tell everyone in the Gammon Arms over a pint o’ best that they “ran off the bin dippers”. A series of stuffy free kicks really took the flow out of the game so it was difficult to see anyone standing out. To the eternal shame of all present, a small contingent in the Upper Gwladys actually applauded the attendance announcement on the PA. Stek spilled a speculative shot around the post and, well, you know the rest. Literally I was halfway through typing that sentence on my phone as it went in. Never change, Everton. With this, Sandro swiftly exited the field and probably the club having done himself proud. Almost immediately, a superb finish from the edge of the 18 yard box by Calvert-Lewin piped down our Yorkshire guests and spared us the tedium of a midweek penalty shootout. He’s done well tonight that lad, though he’ll need to do it against better opposition to convince the Park End judges, juries and executioners.
In all, a solid performance full of positives from the full debutants, tinged with minor disappointment at conceding again from a set piece, and bigger frustration at the feeling that we just might be letting the wrong player out on loan tomorrow.