Everton supporters could be forgiven for turning their attentions elsewhere as the 2015/16 season draws to a close.
Heartbreak in two cup semi-finals, a potential second bottom half Premier League finish in a row and a loss of faith in current manager Roberto Martinez have rendered the final four matches of this campaign irrelevant to many Toffees fans.
Despite gloomy skies engulfing Goodison Park, though, there is a chink of light for those of a Blue persuasion.
Sitting third in the Under-21 Premier League Division One table, Everton’s youth side have impressed under the watchful eye of former Toffees left back-turned coach David Unsworth.
The club has a long tradition of handing youth players the opportunity to work their way through the ranks into the first team, with Michael Ball, Wayne Rooney, Leon Osman, Tony Hibbert, James Vaughan and Ross Barkley just a few of the talented young stars who have gone on to feature for Everton’s senior squad.
And, with a number of the current crop making their mark at under-21 level, here are five of the brightest talents who could feature for the Blues in the final weeks of this term.
Kieran Dowell has been the name on the lips of many Evertonnians in recent weeks thanks to some sterling performances for the Under-21 side.
The 18-year-old attacking midfielder, who has been with the Club since the age of seven, has netted a number of sensational strikes in recent victories over Norwich City, Manchester City and Leicester City – the latter of which saw Dowell bag a superb hat-trick.
Adept with the ball at his feet, with an eye for a pass and a box of tricks to boot, the Ormskirk-born teenager made his first-team debut in the 1-0 home defeat to FC Krasnodar in the Europa League in December 2014.
Dowell put in bright cameo appearances in two of the first team’s pre-season fixtures against Hearts and Dundee before an injury curtailed his chances of impressing further, but expect him to be in and around the senior squad for the Toffees’ final fixtures of 2015/16.
Warrington-born Pennington is another of Everton’s youth players who has enjoyed first-team exposure during the current campaign.
A centre-half by trade, with the ability to figure at right-back, the 21-year-old has started matches against Barnsley and Dagenham & Redbridge in the Capital One Cup and FA Cup respectively.
Pennington had been earning rave reviews for his displays whilst on loan at Walsall but, due to the Blues’ injury crisis ahead of their recent FA Cup semi-final, the defender was recalled and took up a place on the substitutes’ bench at Wembley.
With Ramiro Funes Mori still suspended and Phil Jagielka’s season potentially over, Pennington could be in line for an appearance or two before the season’s end.
Accomplished in a variety of positions across the park, including centre midfield and full back, Connolly’s versatility has ensured his presence as a mainstay in the Under-21 side.
The 19-year-old was part of the team that secured the 2013/14 Under-21 Premier League title, and has represented England at Under-17 level.
A member of the Everton youth ranks since the age of nine, Connolly enjoyed his first taste of senior football in the recent 1-1 draw with Southampton, receiving praise for his performance from fans and manager alike.
A likely contender for a place on the substitutes’ bench in the finals weeks of the season.
Davies has been a member of the Toffees’ academy since the age of 11, and has rapidly risen through the ranks to become a regular at Under-21 level.
The 18-year-old midfielder was on the scoresheet in the first mini Merseyside derby of 2015/16 – a match that ended 3-3.
Like Connolly, Davies made his first-team bow in the Goodison Park clash with Southampton, with his eight-minute cameo giving him a platform to show off his undoubted ball control and skills.
Feisty in the tackle despite his small demeanour, further appearances may lie in wait before the season’s end.
The only youth player on the list who hasn’t made his way through the Club’s academy, Holgate joined the Everton ranks from Barnsley for an undisclosed fee in August 2015.
The 18-year-old defender has settled into life on Merseyside particularly well, and was handed a place on the substitutes’ bench during the Blues’ 5-3 Capital One Cup triumph over his former club back in September.
The former Tykes player has become a regular under Unsworth for the youth side, and recently bagged his first goal for the Under-21s in the 2-0 win over Chelsea.
With the ability to play at right-back and centre-back, Holgate could end up making his first senior appearance for the Toffees before the end of the campaign, with first-choice full back Seamus Coleman currently nursing a hamstring strain.