David Unsworth described Matthew Pennington’s performance as “faultless” after watching his Under-23 side secure a 1-0 win over Arsenal to go six points clear at the top of the Premier League 2 table.
Pennington was making his third consecutive appearance for the young Blues after missing the first half of the 2016/17 campaign with a torn hamstring.
And the Warrington-born Academy graduate was in imperious form alongside Morgan Feeney in central defence as the Toffees sealed a late win, courtesy of substitute Nathan Broadhead’s strike.
“It was a massive win and a great performance,” Unsworth told evertontv. “We showed resilience and our defensive work was outstanding. I’m very proud of our players tonight because, in difficult conditions, we produced a proper Everton performance.
“The goal came late and we always knew it was going to be a tight game because Arsenal are a good team. It took a bit of genius, a moment of magic to get the goal. We brought Nathan [Broadhead] on and put Kieran [Dowell] on the side, allowing him to drift into pockets of space. We thought that would cause them problems, and thankfully it did with those two combining for the goal.
“At the back, Matthew Pennington was faultless. It was probably the best performance I’ve ever seen from a central defender at this level. He really is back to form now and I’m very pleased for him after what was a horrendous injury.
“He epitmoises everything that I like to see in young players - he’s a workaholic, a learner and he’s a smashing lad. You want the good guys to do well, and he certainly is one of them.”
>>> Click here to read a blog from the Under-23s’ 1-0 win over the Gunners.
The Under-23s coach was also pleased to see Sam Byrne back in action after being sidelined for 11 months with a broken leg.
The Republic of Ireland Under-21 international came on for the last 16 minutes at Southport’s Merseyrail Community Stadium and Unsworth has backed the striker to go from strength-to-strength.
He added: “It was a horrific injury, a very unfortunate one that happened on the training pitch. It’s never nice to see one of your young players get injured like he did but, after a long time in the gym and months and months of hard work, he’s finally made his comeback.
“We’re all very proud of him, he’s a great lad and he deserves a lot of success for the way he’s fought back to fitness after his injury.”