Everton Under-21s boss Alan Stubbs hailed his side’s 2-2 draw against Sunderland as one of the most pleasing results of the season so far.
The second string maintained their position at the top of the Group One table by scoring late goals to earn a point on Monday evening.
Stubbs admitted his side didn’t reach the standards they have set since the turn of the year, but he had no complaints with the way in which the young players reacted when faced with a two-goal deficit.
“I’m really happy for the lads,” Stubbs told evertonfc.com. “We didn’t really play that well and we have certainly played better.
“I said to them at the end of the game that the point was more pleasing to me than what some of our wins have been because it showed character.
“There were pleasing signs for me. When you are looking down and out, the easiest thing is to throw the towel in. But we didn’t do that.
“Two-nil is a horrible scoreline in football because teams can feel like they are cruising and are comfortable, but one goal and you are right back in it. That’s how it proved to be because at 2-0 they thought they had done enough.
“Towards the end, we looked like the team that was going to go on and win it. But to be two goals down and then get a point out of the game, I’m really happy for them.
“I keep trying to set them challenges and they keep responding. We had a weakened team tonight because we have got a first team game on Tuesday.
“We asked if we could call the game off but Sunderland said no. That makes it even more pleasing.”
As well as congratulating the players as a group, Stubbs also praised Everton’s two goalscorers.
Francisco Junior rescued a point with a scorching long-range shot after Conor McAleny had put the Blues back in the game with a tidy individual effort.
“Cisco [Junior] has done really well and I said that to him after the game in front of the lads,” Stubbs said.
“He has played well over the last month to six weeks. He’s looked more like we expect and so he has been given a pat on the back.
“It has been a difficult time for him, to be fair. He has come in and had to adjust to things, and now his performances have been good. He has to keep doing that to get in and around the first-team squad.”
Stubbs added: “It was great from Conor [McAleny] and he is getting back to what he was before he had his niggling injuries. He has had a really stop-start season.
“This has probably been the longest he has gone without having any problems and it shows because he is looking sharp. Every time he gets on the ball it looks like something can happen.”