With nothing left to play for, it meant Everton boss Roberto Martinez was able to shuffle the pack when the Toffees took on Bournemouth at the weekend.
One player who got the nod was 21-year-old Matthew Pennington who hadn’t previously featured for the club in the league despite joining at the age of 11. After three loan spells at Tranmere Rovers, Coventry City and Walsall, it was time for the Warrington-born defender to take to the big stage.
For someone making his Premier League debut, it was inevitable that it would take some time for him to ease himself into the game and after nine minutes it was already a start to forget. Cherries striker Callum Wilson beat Pennington to the ball, despite calls for a free-kick, picked out Josh King before Marc Pugh capitalised on the winger’s blocked effort – 1-1.
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After the equaliser, however, the debutant seemed to turn a corner, with a crucial display at the heart of the Everton defence alongside fellow youngster John Stones. He made up for his earlier mistake, first by blocking a cross that was fired in towards Wilson from full-back Simon Francis. Had he not been there, the forward could have easily put the visitors in front.
Pennington continued to flourish as he lunged in front of Matt Ritchie’s strike; a man who has a bullet of a left foot and could have easily found the back of Tim Howard’s net. Darron Gibson, a player who possesses bundles of experience, seemed to just turn his back on the midfielder’s shot and is probably grateful the debutant was on hand to cover him.
King played in a softly-weighted ball into Wilson later on in the first-half, beating both Gibson and Stones for pace and it was Pennington who was alive to the action yet again. The youngster’s well-timed tackle allowed him to slide the ball out for a throw-in, seemingly carrying the back-line on his shoulders.
If Bournemouth thought the second period was going to be any different, they thought wrong. Pennington, yet again, produced a solid display, winning headers, beating Wilson to the ball and preventing the away side from getting anything out of the game.
During a ten-second spell of a Bournemouth attack, Benik Afobe and Junior Stanislas both tried their efforts on goal, both times blocked by Pennington.
Everton ran out 2-1 victors on the day but without the youngster in the side, it could have been a lot different.
His display caught the eye of Sky Sports’ Charlie Nicholas who claimed the centre-back looked a ‘decent prospect.’ He wasn’t the only former player to praise the youngster with Danny Murphy stating he showed ‘all the attributes you want in a young player’ on Saturday’s Match of the Day.
Martinez’s side have three games left and if he wants to get the best out of his new upcoming talent ahead of next season, Pennington must feature for the remainder of the campaign. After a blistering performance at the weekend, it’s the least he deserves.