Everton Under-23s manager David Unsworth praised the work rate and quality of his sides’ performance following their 2-1 win over Chelsea on Monday night in Southport.
The win meant the Blues remain three points behind third-place Arsenal, however, Everton do have a game in hand over the Gunners.
Bassala Sambou and Fraser Hornby continued their burgeoning partnership up front by grabbing a goal apiece against the Londoners. After Hornby opened the scoring, Chelsea equalised through Daishawn Redan. But Sambou was on hand to score the winner when netting his third goal in two games following a brace against Portsmouth last week.
It left Unsworth full of praise for the front pairing, along with the rest of his team.
“The front two were great, the back four were fantastic and the work ethic from the midfield - it was an all-round great team performance," he said. "It has to be when you play Chelsea. But it is great because we have done the double over them.
“Bass's goal was a brilliant finish. He is in a rich vein of form and his partnership with Fraser is really good, as good as I have seen at this level. We had to change it a little bit and Bass played off the left for the majority of the second half, but he did that for the team and his work rate was superb. Fraser was great as well, leading the line. It was a great team performance and I am really proud of them.
“We speak about getting a good start a lot, about setting the right tempo and asking questions of the opposition early on in games and we came out the traps quickly. The boys have done that recently so to get the goal as well, it gives us a good cushion in the game.
“I thought that was the best we have played for a while. There was commitment and good football on a tough pitch that cut up and was challenging to play on, but when we had the opportunity to we played, and we created chances.
The victory was Everton’s second over Chelsea this season, following the 3-0 win back in August, with what has become a changed side since the meeting at the start of the campaign. But the manner in which his side has evolved over the season is something Unsworth was immensely pleased about.
“Since I got this job, the gauge has been Chelsea or Manchester City and how do you perform against those top teams," he added. "To get the double over Chelsea is great. We are a young team and starting again but that will give them loads of confidence individually and collectively to kick on now.
“Matty [Foulds] has been with us for a while but recently Luke Garbutt has been playing. But Matty has come in and stepped in like he has played all season, I thought he was terrific. I think that was probably Nathangelo Markelo’s best performance in an Everton shirt as well, so I am delighted.
“Chelsea are a good side, they keep the ball well and have senior players who have been out on loan and come back. But we knew how to set up against them. We knew there would be times in the game where they controlled possession, but our shape was really good and our back four were outstanding. Matty [Hewelt] didn’t really have that many saves to make - in the first half I remember one and in the second half I remember another - but I can’t remember too many others.”
The young Blues travel to Arsenal on Monday night, where they will hope they can move level on points with the Londoners, with that game in hand still to play.