David Unsworth saluted Antony Evans’ technical ability after the forward’s brilliant free-kick proved decisive in Everton Under-23s’ 1-0 victory at Sheffield United on Friday.
The 21-year-old curled in a sumptuous 20-yard effort midway through the first half as the young Blues made it three wins from three in Premier League Cup Group B.
Everton were indebted to a stunning save from Joao Virginia at the death, though, as the Portuguese ‘keeper tipped Blades substitute Harry Boyes’ shot onto the crossbar in added time.
Boss Unsworth was delighted by how his side dug in on a challeging playing surface in south Yorkshire.
“The players showed a brilliant attitude from start to finish on what was a very poor pitch,” he explained.
“But we didn’t make it [the standard of the pitch] an excuse. We had to play in a fashion that would suit those conditions and the lads’ attitude was fantastic.
“Overall it was a great, hard-fought, dogged performance after a tough week [following the 1-0 defeat to Liverpool].
“It was a terrific strike from Antony Evans. Every time we get a free-kick from anywhere near that distance, I expect him to score.
“He is technically very good and he scores from that range consistently in training.”
Everton almost got off to the perfect start at the Look Local Stadium, home of Stocksbridge Park Steels FC.
With just a minute gone, Josh Bowler hurtled forward down the right before fizzing an effort just wide.
The young Blues continued to press and Tyias Browning was next to threaten, with his header from Bowler’s cross going inches past the post.
Everton would make the breakthrough on 26 minutes through Evans – but mention must be made of Dennis Adeniran’s role in fashioning the opportunity for the talented forward.
The powerhouse midfielder won the ball just inside the Blades’ half before driving at the heart of their defence, beating two men before he was scythed down on the edge of the box.
The referee awarded a free-kick and Evans did the rest, curling his shot into the top corner, leaving Blades ‘keeper Marcus Dewhurst grasping at thin air.
The young Blues continued to look dangerous, with the pacey Bowler providing a constant threat on the right flank and Evans and Bassala Sambou linking up impressively in attack.
United were proving a tough nut to crack, however, and they had a guilt-edged chance to snatch an equaliser just after half time. Tomas Kalinauskas found himself in space in the area and slipped a well-disguised pass into Stephen Mallon. The winger thrashed at goal but Browning was there to make a vital block.
Everton soon regained their composure and, after playing a devastating one-two with Sambou, Evans forced a terrific stop from Dewhurst.
Bowler then had an opportunity to extend the Toffees’ advantage, but his low drive after a mazy dribble was again well saved by the Blades stopper.
And there was almost a sting in the tail for Everton, when Blades forward Boyes fired at goal from no more than 12 yards out in stoppage time. Virginia pulled out a sensational stop, though, to preserve Everton’s lead and, ultimately, secure victory for Unsworth’s side.
“Joao was terrific all game and made an unbelievable save at the end to get us the win,” the Under-23s manager added.
“He has excited me this season with his performances.
“He has set the standard of how a young goalkeeper at this level should be.”