Shayne Lavery struck with three minutes to play to earn determined and ambitious Everton a fully-merited Premier League Cup victory over Portsmouth.
The Toffees’ were the brighter side throughout, save for a brief spell following Nathan Broadhead’s 72nd-minute opener.
Pompey were behind only two minutes before Theo Widdrington levelled from the penalty spot after Nathan Markelo had been penalised for a nudge in the box.
But Lavery pounced to drive home the decisive goal after latching onto fellow substitute Antony Evans’ knockdown from Luke Garbutt’s sweet left-wing delivery.
For all of Everton’s early domination it took until the 13th minute for the away side to fire a shot of note on their hosts’ goal.
Broadhead, whose movement and readiness to run beyond his striker had already been causing Portsmouth all manner of problems, received a pass from Jose Baxter 25 yards from goal and promptly took aim with an effort that thudded into Alex Bass’s left-hand post.
Baxter, in fact, operating deep in midfield, was acting as the conductor for much of Everton’s fast, slick football. Baxter’s influence on proceedings evidently didn’t escape the home team’s attention, either, with the playmaker dumped to the turf early in the piece as Pompey got physical in their initial attempts to contain the Blues.
Baxter was deployed beside Beni Baningime – another to come in for some rough early treatment – and in front of a Toffees’ back-three, which provided the platform for Everton’s wing-backs to raid forward at will.
Garbutt time and again exploited the opportunity to join the Toffees’ attack and on one such occasion sent over a deep cross that was collected by his right-sided counterpart, Markelo.
The Dutchman drifted inside and teed up Anton Donkor for a ferocious drive that nicked off the head of centre-back Drew Talbot to spare Bass in Portsmouth’s goal the need to get his gloves dirty.
Indeed, Talbot more than once was all that stood between Everton and the game’s first goal.
The seasoned former Chesterfield player slid in to stop Donkor getting a shot away inside 60 seconds after the German had raced onto Bassala Sambou’s flick and surged into the box.
Sambou had a decent effort of his own midway through the opening half. The striker was at full stretch to flash out his right foot and kill a forward pass. Not content with that exhibition of skill, he then unleashed a dipping effort which cleared Bass’s crossbar by a foot.
Portsmouth were not without a threat of their own. Last-man Matty Foulds used all his nous and imposing frame to prevent Jez Bedford wriggling past him in the area, while Foulds’ fellow centre-backs Alex Denny and Con Ouzounidis were equally concentrated and resolute whenever required.
David Unsworth nevertheless adjusted his side’s formation at the break, pushing Denny into the middle of the park and Baxter further forward – perhaps in a bid to inject additional urgency into his side’s efforts.
It was Portsmouth, however, who had the first sniff of goal following the restart. With Everton struggling to deal with a free-kick into their area, Talbot popped up to smash a ball across the face of goal. The imperious Ouzounidis, though, was perfectly stationed to clear from deep inside his own six-yard box.
Back came Everton. Sambou tricked his way beyond centre-back Thomas Juel-Nielsen but his delivery lacked accuracy, with Donkor then firing a low shot that was comfortably fielded by Bass.
Ten minutes into the second half Sambou became the second Everton player to hit the woodwork.
The former Coventry man was sent scampering through, one on one with the ubiquitous Talbot. He waited until he progressed into the area to chop back onto his right foot, leaving Talbot on the floor and a mere spectator as Sambou sent a right-footed effort onto the bar.
Boss Unsworth replaced Baxter and Donkor in fairly quick succession – Lavery and then Sam Byrne the players to come on – in an effort to further boost his side’s attacking menace.
Lavery had a skidding effort well held by Bass – but the Pompey number one was utterly powerless to prevent Broadhead from opening the scoring.
Garbutt found himself high up the pitch for the umpteenth time and sent an inviting cross into a crowd of bodies in the Portsmouth box
Amid the congregation, having drifted intelligently off his right-flank, was Broadhead. The Welshman met Garbutt’s cross with a powerful header, directed into the ground and inside Bass’s left-hand post.
Almost instantly, however, Pompey struck back. Louis Gray punched away a ball lofted into the heart of his box from the left, with Ouzounidis planting his head on the subsequent right-wing delivery.
Nevertheless, the ball ran to Dan Smith at the far post and when he came into contact with Markelo referee Adrian Quelch pointed to the spot.
Widdrington did the rest, emphatically drilling into the top-left corner to draw his side level.
But Everton would not be denied. Unsworth’s side gathered themselves and progressively pushed back their hosts.
When the winner came, it was Garbutt again driving at Portsmouth and skipping past Jack Chandler to send a cross onto the head of Antony Evans.
He steered the ball back towards fellow substitute Lavery, who celebrated his return from a long-term injury exile by controlling and drilling his finish into the bottom left corner.
All that was left was for Everton to see out six-minutes of stoppage time, something they comfortably achieved to launch their Premier League Cup campaign in the finest possible style.