Thursday, June 23, 2011

Lion City Cup 2011

Here's my write-up on the Everton U-15s in the Lion City Cup. I had hoped it would have been two write-ups... but alas the results dictated that I only do one. Nevertheless... for what its worth...
The 23rd Lion City Cup in Singapore... not exactly where I thought I'd be taking my daughter to her first Everton game... but well, whenever the opportunity presents itself!
So a few little admin items to talk about first... the tournament is an under 15s tournament. Only players born in 1996 were eligible... except for the Singapore U16 team... don't ask me how the rules were set! The tournament format was two groups of three teams each, round-robin with the top two going into the knock-out semis. There would also be a third-fourth place playoff meaning if you made it into the semis, you played 4 games, if not, it was 2 games and an early flight back. The teams in the tournament were:
  • Group A — Newcastle, Singapore U15s, Juventus
  • Group B — Everton, Singapore U16s, CD Flamengo
The Everton squad for the tournament was..
  • Goalkeepers – Russel Griffiths, Stephen Bullen
  • Defenders – Kyle Scarisbrick, Arlen Birch, Oliver Crowley, Jon Joe Kenny, James Graham
  • Midfielders – Daniel O'Brien, Joseph Williams, Henry Charsley, Ryan Ledson, George Newell, Charley Edge, Rattiphun Jarungjaroen (Thai guest)
  • Strikers – Calum Dyson, Benjamin Cosgrove

Game 1 – CD Flamengo vs Everton

Of the two groups, Everton probably had the tougher draw of the two English teams. Flamengo were the pre-tournament favourites boasting 3 Brazilian U15 internationals. Everton started lining up 4-3-2-1:
Kenny, Birch, Graham, Scarisbrick
Ledson, Williams, Charsley
O'Brien, Edge
Everton started promisingly taking the game to their more illustrious opponents. An early surge down the right by O'Brien ended with Dyson heading just over. As the game went on though, Flamengo started to exert their grip on the game with long spells of good possession. Their control and technique were really a class above and Everton started to struggle to exert their influence on the game.
The first half was punctuated by Everton frustration, highlighted by the early substitution of the Everton skipper Jon Joe Kenny for a persistent open wound at the top of his head. (He'd sustained the cut in the warm-up and had it Vaselined before the game... unfortunately the cut opened up shortly into the game and after several unsuccessful attempts to patch it up, Oliver Crowley came on for Kenny on around 27mins). It said a lot that the Everton player who caught the eye most was Griffiths the keeper. He'd made one good save on the half-hour and looked pretty steady the rest of the time.
The second half started much as the first with a few promising Everton moves. In midfield, Charsley, Ledson and Williams were tireless but had little reward as Flamengo's crisper passing started to tell. The Everton team were also having difficulties clearing their lines at times with several wayward passed in their own half putting themselves under unnecessary pressure.
There followed a great 15 minute spell by Flamengo midway through the second half capped with a great breakaway goal from their number 11. A free-kick by Everton was cleared by Flamengo to the halfway line and the speed of the break caught us (yet again) with a cool finish from the Flamengo midfielder. There had been an earlier chance in almost identical circumstances that went just wide, but this time, there was no mistake.
Everton then brought on Newell and Cosgrove but in truth, the Flamengo keeper was never really troubled and the Brazilians comfortably held on to the lead to record a 1-0 win.
Of the Everton players, Griffiths the keeper looked steady. Stopped some shots pretty well but looked like he could have gotten down better for the goal. O'Brien on the right side of midfield had been singled out for mention in the local press and he showed good pace and some skill down the right flank on occasion. Williams was probably the pick of the midfielders.

Game 2 – Everton v Singapore U16s

Everton started the same 11 from the game against Flamengo. By this time, the other result (Flamengo 1-1 Singapore U16s) meant that Everton needed to win now to progress.
Early promise punctuated the first half again with O'Brien finding joy on the Everton right on several occasions. The iffy defending that marked the first game was still there with unconvincing clearances and space being found at both ends of the pitch.
O'Brien had the first significant attempt when a darting run by Dyson the centre-forward on the right side of the box was half-cleared to O'Brien who was unfortunately only able to sidefoot weakly towards goal where a defender cleared off the line. Singapore U16's also had their chances early on with one piece of great skill by the Singapore left winger leaving the Everton skipper Kenny (oddly sporting a swimming cap for the game to protect the cut) for dead and his dipping shot beat Griffiths but hit the crossbar... the resulting header back in by Singapore U16 was fortunately for Everton straight to Griffiths.
20 minutes in and a great bit of skill by O'Brien on the right to beat his man and deliver a great cross into the box which Dyson managed to direct a looping header over the Singapore keeper for the opening goal. Well worked and no less than what Everton deserved at this point. 1-0 to Everton!
The team then shot themselves in the foot and a mistake by James Graham who really should have dealt with a cross from the right but left it for Griffiths. The Singapore striker lurking behind him didn't hesitate and Griffiths had no chance from six yards. 1-1 and all square again after barely 2 minutes...
Newell came on for Edge at halftime with Everton looking to shake things up a little. The equation was simple, win or go home. Everton started with a few threatening moves and had some free headers that we really should have done better with but we just could not make the breakthrough. The game got scrappier as it went on and Singapore started to exert themselves again. Griffiths had to be alert on 60mins to keep out a far post header. 2 minutes later and a golden chance for Singapore to seal the game the striker ran clear and 1 on 1 with the keeper he side footed wide. A real let off but Everton were wobbling and didn't look like potential semi-finalists.
67 minutes gone and yet another gilt edged chance for Hazim but the Singapore striker blazed over the bar when he really really should have gotten his shot on target at the very least. The Everton players at this point looked leaden-footed and the climate and humidity looked to have taken its toll on them. The game petered out from there on with probably just one half chance in the dying moments from a corner for Everton and 1-1 may even have flattered us given the bevy of clear chances Singapore missed in the second half.
All in all, the Everton team were a little light on creativity and the task of having to deal with the humidity also took its obvious toll. (another example was Newcastle who were also knocked out at the group stages had led 3-1 against the Singapore U15s with 5 minutes to go in the first game but were totally spent by then and conceded 3 goals in the remaining time plus injury time to lose 4-3!)
For the second game in a row, the Everton lad that shone the most was Daniel O'Brien on the right wing. Russell Griffiths in goal looks promising as well. At this level, it's tough to tell if anyone else would make it in the pros though I do have a slight gut feel that maybe Joseph Williams might also be one to watch. For the second game in a row, he was tidy and efficient if unspectacular. Unfortunately I won't have any other games to see any of them play now that we are out.