Everton Under-18s coach Paul Tait praised his side as they returned to winning ways with a 3-2 win over Blackburn Rovers at USM Finch Farm on Saturday morning.
The hosts got off to the perfect start on 17 minutes when Stephen Duke-McKenna and Ellis Simms combined before the latter released Nathan Moore down the left. Moore swung in a pinpoint cross for the onrushing Simms to head the ball into the far corner of the net.
Two minutes later and the young Blues had a second. Tom Warren broke clear down the right before checking back inside and finding Duke-McKenna. The Blues number 11 then fed Korede Adedoyin who finished right-footed into the bottom corner of the net.
The two quickfire goals suddenly brought the game to life, with Simms forcing Ben Winterbottom into a save before Moore fired over from 25 yards out. At the other end, Nico Hansen denied both Kyle Connell and Luke Brennan in quick succession, before Rovers captain Sam Barnes fired over from close-range.
The second half was full of action, too, with both sides carving out opportunities.
First, Hansen denied Blackburn’s Connell, before teammate Isaac Whitehall fired well over. For Everton, both Tom Scully and Warren saw long-range efforts comfortably dealt with by Winterbottom.
But with 17 minutes remaining, Rovers handed themselves a lifeline. Hansen’s clearance was seized on by Luke Brennan, who instinctively crossed for the unmarked Connell to finish first time past the helpless Hansen.
A minute later and Billy Barr’s side went within inches of levelling. Brennan’s corner found the head of James Connelly - but the midfielder’s header was cleared off the line by Scully.
With eight minutes remaining, though, Rovers got the leveller. Brennan’s corner was not cleared and when the winger crossed the ball back into the box, Barnes reacted quickest to flick the ball into the bottom corner of the net.
To their credit, though, Everton rallied and with five minutes to go, Warren’s cross was only half cleared with the ball falling to substitute Pawel Zuk, who drilled a shot into the bottom corner.
The drama wasn’t over, though, as Rovers twice went close to levelling in the closing stages, only for Hansen to deny Tyrone Ofori’s low effort, before racing off his line to block Connell’s attempted dink.
“I’m delighted for the lads, I thought we played great in the first half,” said Tait to evertonfc.com. “We dominated the game and scored two really good goals and could have had more. But, more importantly, I thought the commitment and character was really good, the intensity of our pressing was really good and that allowed us to get the ball back and play.
“We let them back in the game with a couple of individual errors, which we need to eradicate. But the lads are young and still learning.
“The character we showed to bounce back and get the winner was great. We always talk about how we play in terms of development but I thought today it was really important we won and thankfully we did.”
Everton: Hansen, Moore, Warnock, McKeown, Richards, Collins, Adedoyin (Zuk), Warren, Simms (Stanley), Scully, Duke-McKenna. Substitutes not used: Murphy, Anderson, Stanley, Ball.
Blackburn: Winterbottom, Wilson, Pike, Zimba, Enzo-Boyomos, Barnes, Brennan, Connolly, Connell, Whitehall (Burns), Ofori. Substitutes not used: Eastham, Harlock, Lonsdale.