David Unsworth declared his delight with his “absolutely brilliant” Everton Under-23s side after they edged out Blackburn Rovers 1-0 at a wet and wild County Ground on Friday night.
Captain Morgan Feeney’s 36th-minute header proved decisive in the Premier League Cup clash as the young Blues made it two wins from two in Group B.
Unsworth’s men defended resolutely throughout in what was their third away game in seven days, while their dynamic forward players provided a consistent threat.
The young Blues boss saluted his players for digging deep to ensure they signed off for the international break with a win. Next up for the Premier League 2 leaders is a Merseyside derby at Goodison Park on November 25.
“Weather-wise, it was probably the worst night of the year - there was wind, rain, it was just atrocious,” Unsworth said. “But we ground it out. I spoke to boys about how it was a night where they had to show their desire to win the game - and they were brilliant, absolutely brilliant.
“The way we defended as a team and stopped every threat was very pleasing. The team shuffle across and they work for each other. It’s something we drill into the players all the time so I’m always confident we can see games out. I trust the players and they know exactly what we want.
“There were massive performances all over the pitch. I’m very proud of the boys.
“We have a short break now. We have had an awful lot of games recently, but we won’t shut the players down completely. We’ve got the most important game of our season coming up in two weeks [against Liverpool]. We will build up to that and really look forward to it.”
Unsworth’s side got off to a bright start against Blackburn, with Josh Bowler the first to threaten after a quarter of an hour.
He chested down a cross from Harry Charsley before unleashing a powerful volleyed effort that Rovers ‘keeper Andrew Fisher did well to parry.
There was a real ebb and flow to the game and the home side almost broke the deadlock when right-back John Buckley scampered forward before firing at goal, but Toffees ‘keeper Joao Virginia was there to make a smart stop with his feet.
Bassala Sambou then came within inches of putting Everton ahead on 28 minutes when he thumped a header off the post after a fabulous cross from Dennis Adeniran.
The young Blues were building up ahead of steam at this stage and, after a period of concerted pressure, eventually broke down Rovers’ resistance.
Bowler was the creator, his fizzing corner delivery was headed home by Feeney to put the Toffees ahead on 36 minutes
Back came Blackburn and Jack Vale must have thought he had equalised three minutes later when he hammered a shot at goal from no more than 12 yards out. Virginia made a stunning stop, though, tipping the midfielder’s shot around the post to preserve Everton’s lead.
The game continued to be played at a frenetic pace in the second half and Bowler had a penalty shout on the hour mark when he looked to have been bundled over after driving into the box, but the referee waved play on.
As the clock ticked down, the young Blues came under pressure as Rovers committed men forward in search of an leveller.
The home side struggled to create any clear-cut chances, however, with the Toffees’ back four of Charsley, Feeney, Tyias Browning and Kyle John proving a formidable obstacle.
And when Rovers were able to fashion any efforts on goal, the composed, confident Virginia was there to see off the danger.
Boss Unsworth was effusive in his praise for the Portuguese stopper and also highlighted the performance of 17-year-old right-back John.
“Kyle did great for Paul Tait in the Under-18s at the start of the season,” Unsworth explained. “John Ebbrell, Franny [Jeffers] and I have watched him, and we thought he had the ability and physicality to step up.
“He started training with us a couple of months ago and he’s cemented that right-back place. He looks a real class act. He is a great boy and if he continues to progress as he has done since he’s been with us, he’s got a very bright future.
“As for Joao, I’ve been so impressed with him since he’s come to the club, He’s a great lad, he’s settled in very well. He’s the standard.”