Dec 142014

Everton’s dominant position in the Europa League qualifying group was always going to be useful in giving manager Roberto Martinez the chance to have a look at some of the younger players in the squad in the final “dead rubber” game. That’s exactly what he did in Thursday night’s encounter with Krasnodar at Goodison Park.

Everton may have lost 1-0 to the Russians but the night was a success in providing a platform for youngsters such as Luke Garbutt and Ryan Ledson as well as more experienced players such as Steven Pienaar and Arouna Kone coming back from injury.

No one can second guess the manager’s selection but I do think Roberto Martinez has a lot of confidence in the young players coming through the ranks at Goodison. They did not disappoint on Thursday. They all did well. They were a bit nervous at the start, and that’s only to be expected.

Most of them had not had too many first-team opportunities before. As the game went on, they all got better and became more confident.

I think it is a really positive sign when a manager can play so many new and young faces in the same line-up and still see an encouraging performance.

You can see there’s a good crop coming up through the Finch Farm nursery.

I don’t think there’s a truly exceptional prospect around at the moment, a young Wayne Rooney or a young Jack Rodwell. But there are plenty of good young prospects who are capable of making the grade and thriving in the professional game.

It’s very encouraging they did not look out of place in a first-team situation. Luke Garbutt has already had a couple of games with the first-team, not to mention time on loan at Colchester and Cheltenham. He performed impressively at full-back, getting forward and delivering well. There’s not many better players for him to learn from than Leighton Baines.

I’m so confident about Garbutt’s potential that if Baines was missing for any length of time with injury, I personally, would not think twice about putting him in the first-team and leaving him. I think he could cope.

Ledson was another who did well. He’s only 17 and, on the basis of his first-team debut, already looks like a different kind of player to what Everton already have. He played his position with an experience that belies his youth.

The only worry for me is the goalkeeper, Joel Robles. If Everton lose Tim Howard for any number of games, you have to feel confident in your back-up keeper.

Overall the depth and quality of the squad is good. But I think it’s fair to say Joel could have done a little better with the goal on Thursday. He got himself into a position where he made it easy for the attacking player to score.

Everton's Antolin Alcaraz (left) and Krasnodar's Wanderson VIEW GALLERY

Glad to have Kone back

It was good to see Arouna Kone looking a threat up front on Thursday night.

I have not seen a lot of the striker from the Ivory Coast since he made his £6million move from Wigan Athletic in the summer of 2013.

Sadly, no one has, after all his wretched luck with injuries over the past year.

It will be a welcome bonus if he can string some games together and make himself a regular contender as a first-team player.

He performed well on Thursday night and I’m looking forward to seeing more of him.

It was terrible that Christian Atsu to have to go off after only 10 minutes with a hamstring injury.

Hamstrings are very temperamental.

Players like him can be prone to muscle tears.

It would have been good for Everton to have him back for the busy Christmas programme.

Southgate presence on Thursday unsurprising

I’m not surprised Gareth Southgate was at Goodison on Thursday because there are a lot of Everton players who are capable of representing England at lower age levels – if they have not already been selected.

The priority though is getting them ready to play first-team football for

More young players from Premier League academies are going out on loan now than at any time I can remember, but I’m not so sure that is always a good thing.

I personally believe players can benefit more from
staying with the club that looks after them as well as Everton do.

It is where they will learn to play the game the Everton way, working around and learning from senior Everton players.

I would love to knock out Liverpool

It is a pity the seeding for the next stage of the Europa League means Everton will be kept apart from Liverpool, at least initially. Everton are the only English club to be seeded in the last 32. Liverpool are unseeded.

But there will be country protection for that stage of the competition, so no Spurs either, despite their second-place finish.

However, Everton could face Liverpool from the last 16 onwards and it can’t happen soon enough for me.

I would love us to knock them out of a European competition as soon as it becomes possible.

We can pile festive misery on QPR

I’ve been reading in the media about the alleged incidents that took place at Queens Park Rangers’ so-called “Christmas party” last week.

I’ll be quite happy if the fallout undermines their performance at Goodison tomorrow.

Harry Redknapp has said it wasn’t an official players’ Christmas party, just a Sunday lunch among some of his players, and others from Crystal Palace that ended with the police being called to a London pub and England defender Steve Caulker taken to hospital with a head wound.

There’s a long tradition in this country of footballers’ Christmas parties getting a little out of hand and ending up in the pages of the tabloid newspapers.

Some managers don’t like to have them at all.

I think they can be a good thing if they are kept under control and held at a time well before, or sometimes after Christmas, when there’s usually a lot of fixtures to be played. I also think it’s a good idea for the events to be held as private functions rather than in public places.

Queens Park Rangers haven’t won an away game yet and we need to keep it that way on Monday.

Everton have a decent record against the teams in the bottom half of the division so far this season and this is the sort of fixture we should be winning.

I think the team has been playing well but we haven’t found the consistency we had last season.

We have the players to be doing a little bit better and we saw evidence of the strength in depth of the squad on Thursday.

I’m looking forward to better things in the second half of the campaign.

Want something else to read? How about ‘Grievous Censorship’ By The Guardian: Israel, Gaza And The Termination Of Nafeez Ahmed’s Blog

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