David Unsworth revealed he always had confidence his Everton Under-23s side would secure a vital three points, despite trailing at half-time against Derby County.
The young Blues went five points clear at the top of the Premier League 2 table with three games to go after a rollercoaster game at Pride Park, while second-placed Manchester City were held to a 3-3 draw by Arsenal.
The Toffees took a deserved lead early on when Bassala Sambou converted Courtney Duffus’ low cross, but a quickfire brace from Rams striker Emil Riis Jakobsen meant the visitors led at the break.
Everton equalised with 14 minutes remaining via Liam Walsh’s emphatic penalty, before substitute David Henen struck moments later to ensure a 3-2 victory.
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Coach Unsworth revealed his team talk at the interval was spent mostly reassuring his troops.
“It wasn’t the time to be shouting and bawling - you can’t do that very often nowadays with any group, let alone a group of developing players,” he told evertonfc.com
“These players know my standards and they know I’m always looking for perfection, so we spoke about being calm, doing the right things and executing everything we’d worked on and spoken about in the build-up to the game.
“Everything that we expected to happen was happening in terms of where we were having success. We had to keep doing the basics right, keep dominating possession and I knew the chances would come.
“I asked them what a top, title-winning side would do in this situation because they would go and win the game. Full credit to the lads - I thought it was a great display in the second half and they did everything they needed to.”
“It’s difficult to sum up [the game],” said Unsworth. “I’m so proud of the players. We’ve spoken a lot since the Man City defeat and we got what we deserved.
“We knew we could grind something out of the game, even from the position we found ourselves in. That is what this group does and that is what they did again.
“Then we came back into the changing rooms and found out that Manchester City drew with Arsenal, which puts us five points clear with three games to go. It has been a great night for us.”
THREE GAMES TO GO
The Under-23s next face Tottenham Hotspur at Southport on Monday 10 April, before a trip to Chelsea 11 days later.
The final game of the campaign is the Merseyside mini derby at Goodison Park on Monday 8 May.
Manchester City, meanwhile, face Derby County, Liverpool and Southampton in their final three games.
“There is something on every game and that is great,” added Unsworth. “It is what we want. There is no point playing if there are no prizes or just to see the season out. The lads might be nervous but that is good. They are the ones who have put in outstanding performances and put themselves in this position.
“I said to them before the game they are top of the table for a reason, the league’s top scorers for a reason and the team who has conceded the least for a reason.
“We’re in a good position but Manchester City are still breathing down our necks. They are a good team, as they showed against us last week. Whoever goes on to win the title will deserve it.”
LEAGUE TABLE AS IT STANDS