Everton discovered their shooting boots and quadrupled their scoring tally for the season as they progressed to the third round of the Carabao Cup at Sincil Bank this evening. 23 shots, eight on target — including one that was inches away from securing Moise Kean what would have been a deserved goal on his full debut — and four goals were enough to put paid to Lincoln and send the Blues into third round.
Granted it was against League One opposition but thanks to the probing link play of Alex Iwobi, the direct running of Moise Kean, a stunning goal from Lucas Digne and an altogether more coherent display to the one they put on at Aston Villa, Everton were able to avert potential disaster after conceding a goal after just 21 seconds.
Amid the possibility that Everton’s morale was at a low ebb after last Friday’s defeat in the Premier League and given the various banana skins that have seen the Toffees’ exit early in cup competition down the years, Harry Anderson’s strike from the first attack of the game could, on another day, have been a blow from which Marco Silva’s team wouldn’t be able to recover. In truth, however, it merely gave Everton plenty of time to compose themselves, get a grip of the game and set about first regaining parity and then going on to win.
And that’s what they did, even if Bruno Andrade’s rocket temporarily set the cat back among the pigeons by evening the contest again at 2-2 with 20 minutes to go. That, too, could have been an inflection point where the visitors might have teetered and faltered but thanks to Iwobi’s first goal for the club and an emphatic header from Richarlison, the favourites won out on the night to set up a date with Sheffield Wednesday in the next round.
The mis-step at Villa Park may have heightened the need for changes in the line-up but this probably always was the fixture that Silva had pin-pointed as the one to give Kean, Iwobi and Djibril Sidibé their debuts while it’s likely that Fabian Delph would have already made his first start were it not for the injury he sustained against Werder Bremen at the start of the month.
All four made their Everton bows and while the French fullback was solid without really turning any heads, the other three had the kind of impact that the travelling Blues fans hope they will have on the league campaign as well.
André Gomes may have played with the same energy and purpose as Delph did this evening at times last season but it’s been a while since he did so with the same authority. In that sense, the former Manchester City midfielder looks like he could be a very important player if he can stay fit.
Delph played conductor in the middle of the park for the majority of the first half, leading the Blues forward from the back whereupon Iwobi would often take over with his trickery, neat footwork in tight areas and ability to work between the lines.
After Lincoln had stunned Everton when Jack Payne had sliced through their defence from a badly-defended throw-in to get to the byline and cut it back for the untracked Anderson, it was Iwobi who first really tested Grant Smith after Gylfi Sigurdsson had seen a close-range volley parried and then lashed a 20-yard shot high over the crossbar.
Lucas Digne was the recipient of the latest in a succession of balls flighted over the Imps’ right back and he laid a square pass to Iwobi who tried to bend a shot around the keeper, only to see Smith palm it behind.
Michael Keane had an effort cleared from under the Lincoln crossbar at one end while his central defensive partner Mason Holgate wasn’t punished for a slip at the other before Everton’s near total dominance of the ball was rewarded when a free-kick was awarded for a heavy foul on Sigurdsson 30 yards from goal. Digne assumed the honours for the dead-ball situation and swept a quite brilliant, picture-perfect shot into the top corner to make it 1-1.
If that was to be the platform from which Everton would go on and win the game, Kean took up the challenge with a mazy run at the Lincoln defence that ended with him accelerating past his man and hammering a shot that, disappointingly, thumped off the woodwork rather than fly inside the near post.
A few minutes later, Richarlison was teed up by another inviting square ball from Digne but he couldn’t drive his first-time effort on target, the ball whistling a yard wide of the upright. That meant the two teams went into the break level but it felt as though all Everton needed to do was keep playing the way they were and the goals would come. And so it proved in the second half.
Kean had a chance early after the restart when a corner dropped at his feet around six yards out by his way to goal was blocked by a number of red shirts and his shot was charged down. Jason Shackell, meanwhile, might have done better when he got around the back unmarked to meet a Lincoln corner at the other end but he failed to get proper contact on the ball.
Five minutes later, the visitors took the lead. Kean held the ball up impressively as Morgan Schneiderlin made a rare burst into the box where the Frenchman tumbled to the turf after being upended by Michael O’Connor and referee Darren Bond pointed to the spot. Sigurdsson stepped up and despatched a confident penalty high into the goal before a spate of “handbags” erupted in the goal as the Icelandic international went to claim the ball and Aaron Lewis tried to wrestle it out of his hands. Inexplicably, Sigurdsson and not Lewis was yellow-carded, although the Imp would be booked in stoppage time for a horrible tackle on Richarlison.
As expected, Everton pressed for a third but they were pegged back in the 70th minute by Andrade. Lewis eased his way past the tiring Delph and flighted a ball into the box that Keane couldn’t head clear of the 18-yard line and Andrade smashed it past Jordan Pickford with some aplomb from 15 yards out.
Silva’s side stuck at their task, though, and when Richarlison and the increasingly effective Sigurdsson combined down the right and the former chipped a cross from the byline, Cenk Tosun, who had come on as a substitute for Kean, had the presence of mind to head it back across the six-yard box to Iwobi who steered a header of his own into an unguarded corner of the goal to make it 3-2in the 81st minute.
There was time, too, for Digne to put another indelible stamp on the game two minutes from the end of the 90 as he skinned Anderson down the Everton left and whipped in a tempting cross that Richarlison met with an unerring header that flew past Smith and bulged the net in front of the jubilant away fans.
Ultimately, while they scored a couple of fine goals and refused to lie down, Lincoln were unable to match or live with Everton’s overall quality and it was that superiority that told in the final reckoning. Again, the calibre of the opposition needs to be taken into account but there were many pleasing aspects to the performance that bode well for the resumption of the Premier League programme.
Delph looks like he can bring a drive in midfield that isn’t always there from the more sanguine Schneiderlin or mercurial Gomes, while Iwobi and Kean offered the kind of invention, strength and movement that Evertonians were hoping they would up front.
If there were concerns, they largely centred around the lack of organisation at the back for the first goal in particular, Holgate’s obvious rustiness and, until the very end, more profligacy in front of goal from Richarlison. On the whole, though, it was job done and a very instructive exercise that demonstrates the options at Silva’s disposal starting against Wolves on Sunday.
Everton are in Carabao Cup action this evening as they travel to League One Lincoln City looking to redeem themselves somewhat for Friday's dispiriting defeat at Aston Villa.
The Blues lost 2-0 to the newly-promoted Villains, ending their unbeaten start to the season and conceding their first goals of the Premier League campaign in the process.
The loss and the performance that underpinned it has reopened a number of questions relating to personnel, formations and the form of some of the team's most important players. And while the answers are unlikely to come in the League Cup against lower-league opposition, merely skirting a potential banana skin and booking a place in the next round of a competition in which Everton simply have to do well this season will provide a fillip for the preparations to the home fixture against Wolves this coming weekend.
As is always the case at this stage of what is so often deemed to be the least important of the domestic competitions, most of the initial focus will be on Everton's line-up, one that is so often mixed up to give more fringe players an outing.
In this case, however, while it wouldn't be a surprise to see Jonas Lössl make his debut in goal, the anticipated attacking changes would be ones designed to hand minutes to some of the new signings who haven't yet made their first starts. Alex Iwobi, so close to being the saviour of a point on Friday, and Moise Kean could both make their full debuts after impressing of the bench while Djibril Sidibé is an option at right back.
In midfield, where injuries to Jean-Philippe Gbamin and Fabian Delph have reduced the depth of available options this month, Tom Davies will be champing at the bit to press his claims given how poorly André Gomes, in particular, performed at Villa Park. Then there are players like Leighton Baines, Mason Holgate and Cenk Tosun who have either not figured at all so far or who have played very few minutes who will also be pushing to play a part.
Silva wasn't giving too much away in his pre-match press conference yesterday but he did say that he would be respecting the opponents and the competition and not rotating his squad “for rotation's sake,” which will come as welcome news to Evertonians who might otherwise be steeling themselves for the inevitable justification from the manager about it being a squad game and that everyone he picks is good enough to represent Everton.
Whether that will be an argument this time around remains to be seen but Silva hinted that Delph could be fit to play and, of course, his assertion that he will pick the best IX to win the match wouldn't preclude a number of changes given that he could justifiably say on the evidence of the first three games that introducing Delph, Iwobi and Kean could indeed improve the side.
Lincoln, seventh in their division coming into the match, caused Everton a number of problems when the two clubs met at Goodison Park in the FA Cup in January, particularly in the air, and they could look to unsettle the Blues in the same way this time around.
Silva's men have, of course, resolved much of the issues around their marking and defence of set-pieces and aerial balls in the months since that meeting with the Imps and the debacle at Millwall in the subsequent round.
It will by no means be an easy game, particularly given Everton's possibly bruised psyche but, obviously, if they play to their potential, they should win and progress to the next round.
Kick-off: 7.45pm, Wednesday 28 August, 201(
Last Time: Lincoln City 3 - 4 Everton (League Cup Second Round, First Leg, September 1993)
Predicted Line-up: Lössl, Coleman, Keane, Mina, Baines, Schneiderlin, Delph, Bernard, Iwobi, Richarlison, Kean