Salford have come a long way since the Class of 92 increased their profile and resources but a Premier League giant-killing will have to wait for now. Graham Alexander’s side tested Everton’s patience, and no doubt that of manager Carlo Ancelotti as several fringe players failed to grasp their moment to impress, but the experienced heads of Michael Keane and Gylfi Sigurdsson saw the hosts through to a third-round meeting with Fleetwood Town.
Salford’s famous backers could argue otherwise but, according to Alexander, this was a monumental occasion for the League Two club as they faced top-flight opposition for the first time in their history. It proved a monumental step too as Premier League superiority told from the very start.
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 inside the Salford six-yard box to head Sigurdsson’s corner past Vaclav Hladky. The corner was the result of an impressive burst down the left by Anthony 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 unmarked winger’s back-header sailed over from close range.
Ancelotti’s changes included two full debutants in 20-year-old Portuguese goalkeeper João Virginia and Niels Nkounkou, the 19-year-old left-back summer signing from Marseille. Nkounkou impressed with his sharp passing and commitment to attack although, along with the rest of the Everton rearguard, his defensive prowess was rarely tested.
Alexander did not have 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 at every opportunity. Everton’s dominance of possession, however, ensured opportunity was severely restricted, although Lowe forced Virginia into a routine stop with a long-range effort.
The Salford manager will have taken greater satisfaction at half-time in the defensive organisation that limited Everton to few clear-cut chances after their commanding start. Tom Davies drilled a low shot just wide of the far post and Hladky denied Nkounkou a debut goal from an angled volley. Otherwise the hosts’ threat came from distance as the half wore on, Gordon having a goal-bound shot deflected wide by Turnbull and Hladky saving smartly from Bernard’s dipping effort. A concern for Ancelotti was the ankle injury sustained by Jarrad Branthwaite in the first half. With no central defenders available on the bench it fell to left-back Lucas Digne to replace the youngster alongside Keane.
Moise Kean was among those desperately needing to impress and the Italy international wasted a glorious chance to make life comfortable for Everton moments after the restart. The striker was completely 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, another player with much to prove, 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 but the midfielder blazed over from 12 yards. His disgust was audible, and said it all.
Gordon, Everton’s liveliest forward, 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.
Kean found the target from the penalty spot in the closing minutes after Gordon had been fouled by Salford substitute Bruno Andrade.
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