Tait Reflects On ‘Positive’ Under-21 Campaign

Tait Reflects On ‘Positive’ Under-21 Campaign

Everton Under-21s Head Coach Paul Tait has reflected on a strong year of development for his players after a long campaign came to an end this week.

The young Blues finished a respectable eighth in the Premier League 2 table in what was Tait’s first season in charge of the Under-21s, having stepped up from the Under-18s last summer.

However, it was their runs to the quarter-finals in both the Premier League International Cup and Papa John’s Trophy – which included wins against the likes of PSG’s Under-21s plus Mansfield Town’s senior team – that really stood out for Tait.   

Looking back on his maiden campaign with the age group, he told evertonfc.com: “Particularly in the first half of the season, I thought the football we played was really good, as we showed in the Papa John’s Trophy.  

“Winning a lot of games, competing against men, and then similarly with the International Cup as well. Those two tournaments were great for the players’ development.”

In the Papa John’s Trophy, Tait’s side impressively topped a group including Football League teams Morecambe, Hartlepool and Harrogate. They also came from a goal down to beat Mansfield Town – who missed out on a place in the League Two play-offs by a single point – 2-1 in a dramatic contest at Goodison Park.   

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Thu 01 Dec 2022

Higgins and Cannon goals secure Goodison victory over Mansfield.

Tait believes the positive performances that accompanied some of those big scalps helped lay the foundations for some of the group’s top performers to go out and secure more crucial senior competitive minutes in the Football League.  

“It gave the boys a lot of confidence they could go on and play men’s football,” he explained. “The likes of Tom Cannon, Joe Anderson and Seb Quirk all got good moves  

“Tom played against these experienced players in the Papa John’s and then went on to have a really successful loan spell at Preston North End.”  

Striker Cannon scored eight goals in 20 games while on loan at Deepdale, while Anderson and Quirk moved permanently to Sunderland and Accrington respectively.   

Tait knows developing the players is one of the priorities in his role, and he embraces it wholeheartedly. Although, the same also means there’s plenty of change within the squad as the campaign progresses – something that can impact the consistency of the side.   

“It was a huge transition between January and March,” he added. “Players went out and we needed replacements, but I felt we found our feet again towards the end of the season.  

“It’s not easy for some of the Under-18s transitioning through. They can find the jump hard, but they’ve done well. We’ve had lads like Owen Barker, Halid Djankpata and Roman Dixon coming through and impressing.   

“Roman joined us in the past few weeks and knows the level that is required now. It’s important for these players to experience it. Ishe Samuels-Smith has been with us since the start and has been brilliant, as have Katia Kouyate and Francis Okoronkwo.”  

The Under-21s’ progression to the latter stages of cup competitions, plus the fact the Premier League 2 is national and not a regional competition, means the Club’s budding prospects have had to endure a busy schedule of fixtures and travel.   

While Tait acknowledges the challenges that come with that, he highlights the beneficial impact it will have for many of the lads who will face similar contested campaigns throughout their senior careers.   

“The travelling is tough, you lose track of time,” he admits. “You don’t know what day Saturday is and what day a Sunday is because you’re playing at all different times. The reality is, if you go and play in the Championship like Tom Cannon did, that’s what you have to get used to. It’s relentless.”  

Although the Under-21s’ campaign concluded with a 2-0 home defeat to Leicester City on Monday, Tait is more than content with a good season’s worth of work from his squad and is already looking ahead positively to 2023/24.

“I’m happy overall with this season, it was positive,” he said. “We’ve got a good group, not a huge group but the quality is there. We’re hoping the boys who have finished the Under-18s’ season strongly can come into the squad and push on as well.” 

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