Middlesbrough U21s v Everton U21s
Everton Under-21s booked their place in the last 16 of the inaugural Premier League Cup competition with a 3-2 win at Middlesbrough on Monday evening.
The young Blues were handed a trip to the Riverside Stadium and looked to make short work of their Teeside opponents by going 2-0 up midway through the first half.
Matthew Kennedy's pinpoint free-kick dispatched into the top corner on 11 minutes was complimented by Chris Long's 27th-minute penalty after Hallam Hope had been fouled.
But a second-half rally from the hosts brought need for an Everton third and Long duly delivered when nodding home from close range with four minutes left on the clock.
Calling it a game of two halves would be a harsh reflection on Alan Stubbs' side, who were electric in their movement and attacking play despite the bitter northeast cold.
And their early lead was more than merited, despite Kennedy's set-piece being the first clear opening.
With Conor Grant fouled a few yards outside the box, it looked like the left-footed midfielder himself would be the one to test England Under-19 goalkeeper Luke Coddington.
But Grant was the decoy and Kennedy curled a right-footed effort into the top-left corner on 11 minutes.
Strong tackles were present throughout the contest as both sides displayed a hunger to progress in the new competition and for all Everton's intricate passing, it was a long ball over the top that brought about the second goal.
Chasing Lundstram's quick delivery, Hope raced into the area only to be brought down by Coddington's own charge.
Up stepped Long to send the stopper the wrong way with a low finish from 12-yards.
Further chances for Long, Grant and Hope couldn't add to the Blues' dream start, but a different look Boro side emerged at the break.
Revitalised, the hosts earned a free-kick on 52 minutes and caught the Toffees cold by playing it short and quick. Jordan Jones gave Mason Springthorpe no chance with a delightful looped effort and suddenly it was game on.
Long saw two efforts disallowed in quick succession, the first of which after the referee opted not to play advantage despite a surging three-on-two Everton counter.
Additional youth entered the fray in the form of in-form Under-18 forward George Green and midfielder Ryan Ledson, but the Blues were caught out at the back again with just seven minutes left.
Nicking the ball beyond skipper Tyias Browning, Wilson Kneeshaw then got a leg to the ball to prod it beyond Springthorpe and threaten extra time.
But Everton had other ideas and after breaking Boro down in their own half, Green swung a cross to the back post.
The tireless Matthew Pennington had burst forward from right-back and headed the ball goalwards and Long made sure it was going in from a matter of yards.
A late strike that didn't look necessary after an assured first-half but the Blues won't mind now they find themselves in the hat for the next round.