Everton Under-21s coach Alan Stubbs has cited Tony Hibbert as the perfect role model for his young players.
The former Blues defender was speaking after his side - aided by Hibbert - secured a 2-1 win at Middlesbrough on Monday afternoon.
Stubbs hailed the influence of the long-serving defender, who continued his recovery from calf surgery by completing the full 90 minutes at Rockliffe Park.
"Hibbo is obviously a top pro and you only need to look at the way he went about it," Stubbs told evertonfc.com. "He’s a great lad and always gives what he has got. He is always seven or eight out of 10.
"He is an example for the young lads to learn off, especially the lads at the back. I’m hoping they learnt a lot today [against Middlesbrough]; about his attitude and doing things at the right time.
"For me, defenders don’t have to be the best players – they have to be the best defenders. Some of them don’t understand that at times.
"If a ball needs kicking out, it gets kicked out. If the ball needs to be cleared first time, it gets cleared first time. It’s not about being nice and pretty, it’s about doing your job. Hibbo is the perfect example of that because he does everything well and nine times out of 10 he makes the right decisions.
"That should be a big learning curve for Tyias [Browning], John [Stones] and Luke [Garbutt] to play alongside someone like him."
Hibbert’s outing in the North East came a week after he made his initial comeback from injury with an hour’s worth of action in the Under-21s’ 1-1 draw with Fulham last Monday.
And Stubbs believes the 32-year-old could now be in contention for Saturday’s first-team trip to Sunderland.
“Hibbo is ready to be called upon now,” Stubbs added. “He just needs to keep his fitness up for when that time comes. His injuries are behind him now, which is great, and he’s ready for the manager.
“It’s good confidence for him – he has got another game under his belt, so that’s important.”
The 2-1 win over Middlesbrough has sent the Under-21s four points clear at the top of the Barclays Under-21 Premier League Group 1 table with three fixtures remaining.
The team’s unbeaten record was in doubt when Bradley Fewster put the hosts ahead after two minutes, but strikes either side of half-time by Matthew Kennedy and Apostolos Vellios saw the Blues to victory.
Stubbs continued: “The conditions were really difficult - I’ve got to say, that’s probably the windiest game I’ve seen for a long time. But to start the game and concede a goal the way we did was criminal. It’s not acceptable to concede goals like that at this level.
“To come back from that in the manner we did shows the character of the team. That’s the biggest pleasing point for me – the fact that we have come back.
“We always felt that if we put the ball in the right areas of the pitch that we would have a chance [to win] and that proved to be. Chris Long did really well for us on his first start and was really unlucky not to score a couple of goals.
“We got a point against Fulham last week when I felt the performance wasn’t there, but here I saw a different type of performance, which was pleasing.”