Alan Stubbs declared himself proud after watching Everton’s youthful Under-21s side battle to a deserved draw against Chelsea on Thursday evening.
The former Blues defender gave three debutants their chance at Southport, with members of the Club’s Academy and Under-18s team handed an opportunity to step up.
And speaking after the goalless stalemate, Stubbs said he was impressed with how his fledgling charges competed against a more experienced Chelsea line-up.
One notable player on display for the Londoners was Dutch defender Nathan Ake, who has featured for Rafael Benitez’s first team in both the Premier and Europa Leagues this season.
“We decided to play quite a few young lads tonight,” Stubbs told evertontv. “When I say young lads, we had four 16-year-olds on the pitch. We’ve had a few first-year scholars and the only experience was the lads at the back, and the oldest one of them was 19.
“I couldn’t have asked for anything more from them. I’m really, really proud because there were some very good performances. Chelsea had a strong team out tonight and if anything we could have even won the game.
“There was probably just a bit of naivety in the final third. There was a bit of inexperience and rushing when they needed a bit of composure, but I couldn’t really say there were too many negatives.
“They made chances and they put themselves in the right positions, which is the most important thing.”
Everton conclude their league fixtures with a trip to Aston Villa on Monday but face a wait to discover who their opponents will be in the league play-offs.
The Blues, who have already been confirmed as Group One winners, will host the team that finishes at the summit of Group Two in the next phase.
The winners of that tie will then progress through to the semi-finals of the competition involving the top three sides from the Elite Group.
“It will be nice to finish things off and stay unbeaten and that will be credit to the players,” added Stubbs.
“They have had a long season and to find themselves qualified with two games to go is no mean feat. We are looking forward now to seeing who we play in the qualifying game and we will take it from there.
“There are still two or three teams that it could go down to. It looks like it could possibly be Norwich, Reading or Newcastle who we could play. I think up until the last game, Bolton were possibly one [who we could play] as well.
“We’ll see what it brings and when the time comes, we will go into it and do what we need to do.”