David Unsworth says James McCarthy has been a “great” player for Everton – and “will be in the future as well”.
Midfielder McCarthy returned to the Toffees team for Wednesday’s Carabao Cup tie at Chelsea, having not kicked a ball since appearing as a substitute in the Premier League clash with Tottenham Hotspur on 5 March.
The Republic of Ireland international, who was on Thursday called up by Martin O’Neill for next month’s World Cup play-off against Denmark, last started a match when the Blues thumped Bournemouth 6-3 back on 4 February.
But, after overcoming the knee injury which has sidelined him this term, McCarthy was typically industrious and combative during his 64 minutes on the pitch in the capital, with the 26-year-old's incessant chasing and harrying setting the tone for Everton's energetic performance.
“I was desperate to get James back in the team because he has been a great player for us over the period,” said Unsworth, who confirmed it had always been his intention to replace McCarthy with striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin after half-time.
“For James to last 60 minutes was a bonus. He is a great player. He has been a great player for us and will be in the future as well. I am one of his biggest fans.”
Calvert-Lewin scored deep into stoppage time against Chelsea but the 20-year-old's goal came too late to prevent the Blues from exiting the League Cup, after Antonio Rudiger and Willian struck to seal the hosts' progress into the competition's last eight.
Unsworth admitted the game’s outcome left a sour taste but was nevertheless thrilled with his players’ application and their desire to compete with Antonio Conte’s team.
And the former Everton defender, who takes his side to Leicester City for a Premier League encounter on Sunday, also reserved praise for Jonjoe Kenny’s contribution at Stamford Bridge.
Right-back Kenny, who appeared as a first-half substitute when Unsworth took charge against Norwich City on the final day of the 2015/16 season, lined up against Chelsea for the fourth start of his Everton career.
“I felt that was his best performance in the first team,” continued Unsworth, speaking to evertontv. “That is the Jonjoe I expect – getting forward, closing down and having a real influence on the game. And he certainly did that.
“There is a great deal to work with in this team and I am really excited to work with these players after that performance, because they gave absolutely everything.
“And when you give everything for this Club, everybody will get behind you and support you. I am not happy with the result – but at the same time I am delighted with a lot of things.”
Unsworth had one training session with his players before the team travelled south for Wednesday’s cup tie.
And despite the fact he will again have limited preparation time ahead of this weekend’s game at Leicester, the 44-year-old is promising to make every second count – and continue to emphasise one key message.
“We spoke about it in the hotel before the Chelsea game and again at half-time: we expect to win, we are Everton,” added Unsworth.
“All those fans who came down, we wanted to win for them. Every game I am involved in, I will be telling our players we have to win.
“Ideally we would want more time on training ground but we do not have that. But we will certainly be coming together a lot in a short space of time and, if we do what we did at Chelsea, we will be okay.”