Everton gain a head start from Michael Keane as they ease past Salford

Andy Hunter at Goodison Park on 16 September 2020

Salford have come a long way since the Class of ’92 increased their profile and resources but a Premier League scalp must remain an aspiration for now. The League Two visitors proved a test of Everton’s patience and creativity but Carlo Ancelotti’s side ultimately secured a third-round meeting at Fleetwood Town in comfort.

Anthony Gordon, Everton’s 19-year-old talent, was the only one of Ancelotti’s forwards to impress against Graham Alexander’s obstinate team but his performance, allied to the experience of Michael Keane and an encouraging debut from Niels Nkounkou, was sufficient to polish the hosts’ dominance.

Gordon created the second goal for Gylfi Sigurdsson, just when Salford were growing in confidence, and won the penalty from which Moise Kean sealed victory late on. Kean was among several Everton fringe players who failed to grasp their opportunity, however, and the watching Joey Barton, the Fleetwood manager, will have found encouragement in their toils.

“The performance was good and the spirit and attitude of all the team was good,” insisted the Everton manager. “Anthony was inspired, in front he was really dangerous.”

One setback for Ancelotti was the addition of Jarrad Branthwaite to an injury list that includes fellow central defender Mason Holgate. “If there is a possibility that we find a centre-back, then we would like to do it,” said the Italian, who refused to be drawn on whether Chelsea’s Fikayo Tomori is the defender he has in mind.

Salford’s famous backers will argue otherwise but, according to Alexander, this was a monumental occasion for a League Two club facing top-flight opposition for the first time in their history. It proved a monumental step too as Premier League superiority told early on.

Keane was the only survivor from Sunday’s starting line-up at Tottenham as Ancelotti rotated some legs and put others in the shop window. The central defender vindicated his manager’s decision by giving Everton an early lead, losing Jason Lowe and soaring above Jordan Turnbull to head Sigurdsson’s corner past Vaclav Hladky. The corner was the result of an impressive burst down the left by Gordon and should have resulted in Everton doubling their lead even at that stage. Bernard had earlier picked out Theo Walcott’s run into the area with an inch-perfect cross but the winger’s back-header sailed over from close range.

Ancelotti’s changes included two full debutants in 20-year-old Portuguese goalkeeper João Virgínia and Nkounkou, the 19-year-old left-back signed from Marseille in the summer. Nkounkou impressed with his sharp passing, power and commitment to attack although, along with the rest of the Everton rearguard, his defensive prowess was rarely tested.

Alexander did not come to Goodison with damage limitation in mind as his formation testified, with former Manchester United hopeful James Wilson and Brandon Thomas-Asante charged with supporting veteran marksman Ian Henderson.

Everton’s dominance of possession ensured opportunity was severely restricted. Kean, among those desperately needing to impress after scoring twice since arriving for an initial £29m from Juventus last year, wasted a glorious chance to double Everton’s lead moments after the restart.

The striker was unmarked when Sigurdsson’s cross sailed over the Salford defence but, with almost the entire goal to aim for, he miscued a header against the bar at close range. Bernard also squandered an excellent opening after good work by Gordon.

Salford had to be patient for the chance to punish Everton’s profligacy. It arrived when Ashley Hunter headed Wilson’s cross into the path of Richie Towell inside the area but the midfielder blazed over from 12 yards. His disgust was audible inside the empty stadium, and said it all.

Gordon forced Hladky into another good save before finally helping to banish creeping anxiety in the home ranks by creating the second for Sigurdsson. The eye-catching Nkounkou released the teenager down the left and he showed good awareness to pick out the Iceland international’s late run into the area. Sigurdsson made no mistake, nor Kean from the penalty spot after Gordon had been felled by Salford substitute Bruno Andrade.

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