David Unsworth paid tribute to strike pair Fraser Hornby and Bassala Sambou after the duo fired Everton Under-23s to a 2-0 victory over Chelsea on Monday night.
The win at Southport FC’s Merseyrail Community Stadium ensures the young Blues remain top of the Premier League 2 table, one point ahead of closest rivals Leicester City.
Hornby, who was making his first start since 5 October after undergoing ankle surgery, placed a precision finish past Chelsea keeper Jamie Cumming midway through the first half to put the Toffees in front.
Sambou then made sure Everton secured maximum points, slotting in a second-half penalty after Hornby was felled in the area.
Boss Unsworth was delighted with how his strikers combined throughout – and was encouraged by Hornby’s lively display after such a long spell on the sidelines.
“Fraser had a really bad injury and we didn’t want to rush him back – you can’t do that because you don’t want a reoccurrence of the injury,” he told evertonfc.com.
“He led the line very well and he linked up terrifically with Bassala. They pressed and were a real handful.
“Fraser took his goal well, as did Bassala with his penalty.
“I thought it was a partnership that looked promising. Successful teams are built on partnerships. They worked together as a pair and were excellent.”
The young Blues started confidently, circulating the ball with speed and purpose against an energetic Chelsea side.
The game took a completely new complexion on 16 minutes, though, when Chelsea skipper Richard Nartley was sent off.
The defender miscontrolled a pass and Sambou was onto it in a flash. The striker was haring in on goal, with just the keeper to beat, before being brought down by Nartley 20 yards out. The referee had no option, and the Chelsea man saw red.
It took Everton just 10 minutes to press home their advantage. Hornby latched on to a lofted through ball by Evans and expertly finished past Cumming to make it 1-0.
Harry Charsley was fractions away from doubling Everton’s lead on 38 minutes. After an excellent passage of play from the young Blues, the midfielder fired a daisy-cutter just wide of Cumming’s post.
Despite their numerical disadvantage, the away side still carried a threat, particularly through jet-heeled forward Tino Anjorin.
Chelsea started the second half brightly, with the Toffees backline alert to clear dangerous balls into the box by Dutch winger Ian Maatsen.
The visitors carved out their first clear-cut chance on 65 minutes, when substitute Martell Taylor-Crossvale was put through on goal down the left channel. Joao Virginia raced off his line to make a fine stop from the forward and preserve Everton’s lead.
And on 74 minutes, the young Blues put the game beyond doubt. After Hornby was fouled in the box by Chelsea defender Marc Guehi, there was never any doubt over who was going to take the resulting spot-kick.
Sambou had scored four penalties from four attempts this season and ensured his 100-per-cent record remained intact in typically cool fashion – taking a stuttered run-up, waiting for the keeper to dive, and slotting into the opposite corner.
The young Blues saw out the game with minimal fuss and boss Unsworth was eager to highlight the performance of skipper Morgan Feeney – who superbly marshalled an all-teenage back three featuring fellow 19-year-old Con Ouzounidis and 17-year-old Ryan Astley.
“I thought the team were very good overall tonight and deserved the win,” Unsworth explained.
“We changed the way we played – we went with three centre-backs in Morgan, Ryan and Con – and they did well.
“Morgan’s performance was outstanding. You can see his qualities as a player.
“But you also look at his organisation and leadership – you can hear him shouting more than me sometimes, and I can shout pretty loud!
“But that is why he is captain. He was terrific.”