Everton have long been keen for a cup run and maybe this season seems like as good a time as any to really go for it. The depth that has been added to Carlo Ancelotti’s squad was clear here when Everton, with their second string, barely had to move out of the lower gears. Given that most of the Carabao Cup games are before the year-end, there is every reason for Everton to treat this competition as a priority.
They progressed past League Two side Salford City with room to spare at Goodison Park on an evening that some of the forgotten faces demonstrated their worth to Ancelotti. Gylfi Sigurdsson, with a goal and an assist, led the way for the home side and they will face Fleetwood Town in the third round next week.
Story of the game
This was a much-changed Everton starting XI to the one that beat Tottenham Hotspur last weekend. Ancelotti made as many as 10 changes with only Michael Keane keeping his place at the heart of the home side’s defence. There were starts for Portuguese goalkeeper Joao Virginia along with Anthony Gordon and Moise Kean in attack and a debut for new signing Niels Nkounkou at left-back.
There were far fewer changes made by Graham Alexander, the Salford City manager; four from the team that drew with Exeter City in the first game of the League Two season including former Manchester United player James Wilson coming into the attack on the left.
Given the difference in the team’s standings, a gap of three divisions, it was expected that Everton would dominate the ball. It was not long before balls were finding their way into the Salford area with Theo Walcott spinning and heading one delivery over the crossbar having been put off by Vaclav Hladky advancing from his goal.
Still, it didn’t take long for the home side to break the deadlock. It started with Gordon breaking down the left, his burst of pace was too much for Oscar Threlkeld who had little support from the players in front of him - such are the perils of playing with a narrow diamond formation. Gordon advanced to the byline but his low cross was blocked behind for a corner.
It was Sigurdsson, who now finds his place in Ancelotti’s first-choice midfield under threat due to the arrivals of Allan and Abdoulaye Doucoure, who sent the corner in for Keane to head powerfully beyond Hladky. It was the centre back’s first goal at Goodison Park in three seasons and set Everton on their way in this tie.
Still the away side tried to break forward when they managed to possession from their opponents. Richard Towell’s strike from the edge of the area straight into the arms of Virginia being the best chance that Alexander’s side had in the first half.
Everton were comfortable in possession and Salford had to rely on the battling duo of Jason Lowe and Ashley Hunter in midfield to keep the home side at bay. Tom Davies was laid off by Walcott when entering the area only for his shot to travel wide of the far post. Nkounkou, who was brought in from Marseille as a development player, fired a close-range volley at the Salford goalkeeper and Bernard forced Hladky into a scampering save with a curling effort from distance.
The only negative of the first half for Everton was Jarrad Branthwaite leaving the field having picked up an innocuous injury when passing the ball. The promising centre back, who got a run of games during Project Restart, is highly regarded at the club but his departure led to Lucas Digne coming on to plug the central defensive hole.
It was the Sigurdsson-Kean axis that almost brought about Everton’s second goal. This time it was Kean rather than Keane but it was Sigurdsson’s fantastic delivery that put the ball on a plate. The 20-year-old striker should have scored with his header rather than strike the bar. Still though Everton passed at their leisure - their play now slower and more pedestrian but Salford’s press was equally so.
It allowed Gordon an in-road into the area halfway through the second half but his goal-bound attempt was parried by the goalkeeper who was starting to have an impressive evening. Nkounkou also grew in confidence on the left and sent in numerous low deliveries as the half progressed, each of them were asking to have the final touch applied to them in front of the Salford goal.
But it was when he passed short to Gordon, who in turn teed up Sigurdsson, that Everton got their second with 15 minutes of play left. The Icelandic’s finish was cool with a simple tap in past Hladky and capped a good evening’s work.
The Salford goalkeeper had to be on his toes when Walcott forced him into a reflex save but could only watch when Sigurdsson’s shot rebounded off the base of the post and then Gordon’s effort struck the other. Everton may have been cursing the gloss of the wordwork but soon enough sheen was added to the scoreline when Gordon was brought down in the area by substitute Bruno Andrade allowing Kean to finally get his goal for the evening from the penalty spot.
More could have come when Kean headed against the post and Gordon saw another shot cannon back of the crossbar but Everton had done more than enough to progress here.
Salford do themselves proud
There was plenty of encouragement for Alexander to take from this match despite Salford’s exit. Firstly by just reaching this round they bettered last season’s first attempt at this competition when they lost to Leeds United in the first round. Also it is worth remembering that the last time Ancelotti won the Champions League in 2014 Alexander was winning the League Two play-off final with Fleetwood, the team who Everton will face in the third round, which speaks of the contrasts on the touchline.
Still the visitors managed to keep the scoreline respectable and only gave in during the final minutes, which is a victory in itself given the opposition. The performance of Assante on the left of Salford’s front three caught the eye in particular. The strong attacker was always looking to break forward when given the opportunity. Likewise Hladky was a commanding presence in goal in his second start for the club since joining last month from St Mirren.
Everton’s squad strength on show
That Ancelotti could completely switch his starting XI, bar one, and still win this game with ease shows that the manager’s options are improving. By bringing in three players who are expected to go straight in to the first team, the pressure is now on a number of others who now must fight for Ancelotti’s attention.
The likes of Sigurdsson, Walcott, Davies and even Bernard are not guaranteed game time to quite the extent they were last season, which is why staying in this competition is important for them. Sigurdsson scored and had a generally good game, collecting the Man of the Match award, whilst Bernard was his energetic best behind the leading striker. Ancelotti has options now and the fight for starting berths will only intensify.
Everton: Virginia; Kenny, Keane, Branthwaite (Digne 24), Nkounkou; Davies, Sigurdsson; Walcott, Gordon, Bernard; Kean.
Subs (not used): Pickford, Allan, Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin, Doucoure, Coleman.
Salford City: Hladky; Threlkeld (Gibson 75), Turnbull, Eastham, Touray; Towell, Lowe, Hunter; Wilson (Andrade 61), Henderson, Asante (Elliott 74).
Subs (not used): Evans, Denny, Armstrong, Golden.
Referee: Marc Edwards