Ademola Lookman’s double ensured a youthful Everton side did not miss Sam Allardyce’s presence in Nicosia as they finished their woeful Europa Leaguecampaign with a victory.
A medical appointment meant Allardyce was not in Cyprus to witness the win against Apollon Limassol, Everton’s first of the group stage, but he will receive a positive assessment of his fringe players and youngsters from Craig Shakespeare, who took over in the dugout.
The most glowing review will be reserved for the 20-year-old Lookman, who scored twice in seven first-half minutes, the second of which was a blistering strike to cap a 26-pass move in which each Everton player touched the ball. Nikola Vlasic added a third late on.
Asked if he thought Lookman could be an important player in the future, Shakespeare said: “I do … of course, as young players they need the opportunity but they also need to show the ability as well. He did tonight.
“We just said to the squad after, look at this as a starting block and in football you get your just rewards most of the time. The work ethic was there for all to see and so were the rewards.”
Everton’s side, which featured two debutants – Harry Charsley and Fraser Hornby – was the youngest an English club had selected for a European group match in eight years, and Shakespeare brought on three teenagers for their bows, including Anthony Gordon, 16. Everton named a younger starting lineup against Bate Borisov in 2009 when their place in the last 32 had been was assured, and while they selected a youthful team this time because they had been eliminated, a win meant they avoided finishing bottom.
Lookman, who came through at Charlton Athletic and was making his 22nd Everton appearance, showed his inexperience when he spurned a great chance in the ninth minute. Davy Klaassen played in the winger and he tricked a defender by feigning to shoot with his left only to hesitate on his right and allow Tasos Kissas to rush out and block the shot.
Everton went ahead when an unmarked Lookman dispatched a header into the roof of the net from Vlasic’s cross after he had reached the byline via a one-two from Kevin Mirallas. If that featured a good buildup, it was nothing compared to the second goal. Every player touched the ball, including the goalkeeper Joel Robles, who cleared to Mirallas on the left wing before he found Lookman inside. Afforded space and time, he pulled the trigger from distance and his 25-yard attempt was too quick for Kissas.
Robles was kept busy before the half ended, saving from Adrian Sardinero and Fotis Papoulis, who flicked home a free-kick only to be adjudged offside as the visitors entered the interval with a two-goal lead.
Lookman could have put the game to bed in the 57th minute when he jinked into the box and saw a left-foot attempt that would have given him a perfect hat-trick stopped by Kissas.
Mirallas and Hornby were denied by Kissas’s legs but he was beaten again by Vlasic’s low finish. The game had long petered out, though, and Shakespeare was able to bring on Nathan Broadhead, Gordon and Alex Denny for their first senior appearances.
None will be involved in the Merseyside derby on Sunday but this was evidence that, after a bleak few months, there is cause for optimism about the future at Goodison Park.