Monday’s narrow 1-0 win at Fulham has given Everton Under-21s the belief they can top their Qualification Group 1 table, according to defender Tyias Browning.
Conor McAleny’s pinpoint finish gave the Blues a 19th-minute lead at Motspur Park but it was Browning and his defensive colleagues who had the busier evening, time and again repelling Fulham’s desperate attempts to force a leveller.
An assured display at the back gave Alan Stubbs’ side a second consecutive clean sheet, leaving them well-placed to progress to April’s final stage play-offs.
The Blues will need to top their group and then overcome the victors of Qualification Group 2 to earn the right to join the top three clubs from the Elite Group in the Under-21 Premier League semi-finals.
“It was good to make it two wins on the bounce, and even better to get a second clean sheet as well,” Browning told evertonfc.com. “It was a tough pitch and at times it was more like attack versus defence. It was a 'dirty' win more than anything.
“Hopefully we can go the rest of the season unbeaten. If we can do that we will move up the league. Two wins and a couple of clean sheets means we are confident and can’t wait for the next game.”
Usually found at right-back, Browning was shifted to centre-half for the meeting with the Cottagers, allowing new signing John Stones to make his first Everton appearance since a January move from Championship outfit Barnsley.
Though not an entirely unfamiliar position to the powerful 19-year-old, he admits he was thankful for the presence of teammate and skipper Shane Duffy alongside him.
“I haven’t played centre half for about two years,” continued Browning. “I definitely haven’t played there since I was a first year at Everton.
“But Shane is a big influence and he helps you a lot. He talks to you and keeps you on your toes for the whole game. He doesn’t let your confidence go down.
“It was a good experience and I didn’t mind filling in there. I will play wherever the gaffer tells me to.”
Browning was also pleased for new teammate Stones, who caught the eye with an accomplished 90-minute display.
“It was John’s first game for Everton and I thought he was one of our best players,” he said. “Hopefully he can progress with us and force his way into the first team. That’s what we’re all trying to do.
“He has settled in really quickly and he is already one of the lads. It’s great for him and for the team.”
Everton’s next game is at home against Middlesbrough on Sunday. For a full explanation of the Under-21 league format, click here.