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BY EVERTON FC/UPESINEWS REPORTER,NAIROBI,7TH JULY 2019-Everton’s historic pre-season opener against Kariobangi Sharks in Nairobi ended in a 1-1 draw, before the Kenyan hosts triumphed in a penalty shootout.
The Blues became the first English Premier League team ever to play in Kenya, two years after achieving the same feat in Tanzania.
Duke Abuya sent the 60,000 local supporters delirious when he opened the scoring for the Sharks midway through the first half.
Midfielder Joe Williams, a half-time substitute, craftily claimed Everton’s leveller with a low free-kick seven minutes after the restart.
As expected for the first pre-season fixture, and in the afternoon Nairobi heat, Marco Silva was looking for minutes in his players’ legs.
In total, 22 travelling Everton players enjoyed match action, including Theo Walcott, Morgan Schneiderlin, Andre Gomes, Tom Davies and Leighton Baines, who all got through the first half unscathed.
There was, however, the setback of an injury to Ademola Lookman who hobbled from the field early in the contest.
Local fans had been gathering inside the Kasarani Stadium since early morning and by the time the Everton squad arrived, a carnival atmosphere had already been whipped up by the thousands in attendance. Dancing, music, flags, cheerleaders, vuvuzelas and chanting – the ground was bouncing, full to capacity in the bright sunshine at kick-off.
Leighton Baines captained the Blues as Marco Silva began with a senior line-up. Only Lewis Gibson had no previous first-team experience.
Mason Holgate was making his first Everton appearance since returning from a loan spell with West Bromwich Albion and he stabbed wide from close-range with the game’s first chance in the opening moments following an Ademola Lookman free-kick.
There was a long stoppage when Lookman required treatment after a quarter of an hour, an injury which eventually forced the forward out of the action prematurely. Welsh Academy graduate Nathan Broadhead was the replacement on the left wing.
Every attempted Kariobangi attack drew screams of excitement from the home support – not that they needed any encouragement. Several times throughout the contest, a Mexican wave swept around the 60,000 vociferous fans who were evidently relishing the opportunity to watch a local Kenyan side tackle a Premier League outfit.
The stadium erupted on 25 minutes when the hosts opened the scoring through Abuya, who escaped down the right, strode into the area and managed to squeeze a shot past Maarten Stekelenburg.
Kariobangi nearly had two when, from a similar position, Nick Mwenda then fired through the six-yard box and across goal.
The Toffees nearly drew level shortly before the break when the lively Broadhead latched on to a Theo Walcott cutback, only to see a rising shot fly narrowly over the bar.
With the Blues less than a week into pre-season, it was no surprise to see wholesale changes at the interval. There were eight substitutions in total, with only three reappearing for the second half.
Jonas Lossl was one of the introductions – his first runout in an Everton shirt since joining from Huddersfield Town – and he was given an early sighter with an ambitious shot from 40 yards out which arrowed straight into his gloves.
But Everton generally resumed with plenty of purpose and were back level in the 53rd minute when Williams out-thought the Kariobangi defence with an inventive 20-yard free-kick which found the net after travelling under a jumping wall.
A youthful Toffees side were the team most likely to net again as the second half progressed and when Morgan Feeney stepped off the bench on 70 minutes, it represented seven members of the 2018-19 Premier League 2-winning team being on the field at the same time.
Fraser Hornby planted a late header onto the roof of the net and the hosts had a claim for a late penalty against Antonee Robinson which was waved away.
There was to be no winner, meaning the game went straight to penalties.
Williams saw his effort saved by Kariobangi keeper Brian Bwire before goalsorer Abuya blasted his spot-kick over the bar. Broadhead, Geoffrey Shievka, Josh Bowler, Sven Yidah, Hornby and George Abege made no mistake with their efforts.
And when Dennis Adeniran had his penalty saved, Sharks keeper Bwire fired home to hand the spoils to the Kenyans.