BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Ademola Lookman is set for a South London return tomorrow evening – with Everton fans keen for the talented attacker to get a run in Marco Silva’s side.
That is the verdict of Phil Kirkbride, who covers the Toffees for the Liverpool Echo. Peckham-raised Lookman left Charlton in January 2017 for a fee in excess of £7million.
But the Wandsworth-born winger spent the end of last season on loan at German side RB Leipzig and has made 39 appearances for Everton.
Lookman has started their last two Premier League matches – although Silva could not be blamed for making changes for the FA Cup tie at Millwall this weekend after a lacklustre team display in last Saturday’s 2-1 loss at Southampton.
Kirkbride said: “The feeling amongst the support base is probably that he needs a run of games now – let’s see what he can do getting that rather than being in and out.
“Before, he has come on for 10 minutes and done well, gets a start and doesn’t do so well and comes out again. The hope is that he starts at Millwall. Ademola was one of 14 under-performing players at Southampton. He played well in the third round of the FA Cup [a 2-1 home win over Lincoln City] , so it feels like the natural thing to keep him in the team.
“He’s in a situation where he has started back-to-back league matches for the first time in almost two years. But he has never been out of the manager’s plans. It’s just taken a while for him to force his way in, and he’s had some niggling injuries.”
Lookman had previously been keen on a permanent move to Leipzig, where he scored five goals in 11 games.
“I think even up until the final week of the window he was still holding out hope that a deal could be struck,” said Kirkbride.
“Everton had knocked back a number of bids from Leipzig and were adamant he wasn’t going anywhere.
“Silva dropped him from the squad for the opening game against Wolves saying that his attitude wasn’t right. Then I think there was an acceptance from Ademola that he was staying, that the manager did believe in him and want him.”
Lookman scored on his debut for Everton when he was an 89th-minute substitute in a 4-0 win over Manchester City in January 2017.
“He got off to a real flyer,” said Kirkbride. “Ronald Koeman, the manager, was not really involved in his signing – that was down to Steve Walsh, who was director of football. It was only in training that Koeman realised how talented the lad was.
“He shot into Ronald’s thoughts and had a run of games. But I remember against Bournemouth he tried some elaborate move in Everton’s half, lost the ball and Koeman really had a go at him.
“He started the next game, but you sensed his confidence had taken a drop. Compounded with some big misses against Boro, he didn’t start again after the end of February 2017.
“I think Koeman felt that for all his promise, he didn’t have the maturity or discipline to be playing from the start.
“Sam Allardyce came in the following season and Ademola’s prospects hadn’t changed.
“Everton’s stance on him going on loan softened eventually and they said he could go to Derby. But he and his people wanted to go to Germany.
“On deadline day, he joined Leipzig and absolutely loved his time there. He felt wanted, he was playing and scoring goals. Leipzig made it clear they were going to test Everton’s resolve in the summer. But it’s a revolving door at Everton and there was another change of manager.
“Both Marcel Brands [director of football] and Marco Silva made it abundantly clear he was going nowhere.”
So will Silva rotate his side for their Den date?
“I think he fully knows he has to go with his strongest team available,” said Kirkbride. “He went strong in the third round, but not his strongest. There isn’t any room for error on Saturday.
“The importance of the FA Cup to Everton’s season is huge. If you asked Everton supporters, then most would say that the FA Cup is now their season.”