Centre-back Con Ouzounidis insists he is determined to “keep improving” after his breakthrough season for Everton Under-23s.
The Australia youth international started the campaign in the Toffees’ Under-18 set-up but – after making his Under-23s debut against Derby County in February – has produced a string of impressive performances for David Unsworth’s side.
The 18-year-old’s latest accomplished display came as the young Blues rounded off their Premier League 2 campaign with a 2-2 draw against Manchester United at Old Trafford on Friday night.
Everton twice went ahead in the clash – with Matty Foulds and Luke Garbutt on target – but on both occasions were pegged back by United.
Ouzounidis – who played in a defensive three alongside Foulds and skipper Lewis Gibson – was satisfied with his personal performance but admitted to a feeling of frustration that the Toffees couldn’t secure all three points.
“It was a very hard game,” he told evertonfc.com. “But we had a few chances that we could have taken and I think we probably deserved the win.
“They had a couple of opportunities as well but I think we had the better of the game.
“We played three at the back and I think it worked well. We haven’t really played that system much, so we had to adapt. Although it wasn’t a familiar position for me, playing alongside Matty and Lewis really helped. They’re both very good communicators and it made it a lot more comfortable.”
After the young Blues’ vibrant performance against United, boss Unsworth said his players “rose to the occasion” at Old Trafford. Ouzoundis says he relished playing on such a grand stage.
“It was class, playing in a stadium like that,” he said. “As soon as the whistle goes, you get totally involved in the game – you forget about it a little bit – and are just focused on what you have got to do. But it was a great experience.”
For Ouzoundis, this season has proven a steep learning curve. The speed and physicality of Under-23s football represents a significant step up for the youngster – but is one he has adapted to admirably.
Indeed, the fact he started seven of the Under 23s' final eight matches this season speaks volumes of the faith the management team has in the Academy product.
Now Ouzounidis says he is eager to further improve all aspects of his game and cement a spot in Unsworth’s side for the 2018/19 campaign.
“I feel like I have developed a lot,” he said. “I am still a second-year scholar and I started this season with the 18s. I managed to push my way into the 23s and play quite a few games now so I just want to keep improving and keep my spot next season.
“Physically it’s a lot harder [at Under-23 level] and technically the pace is a lot quicker.
“But the physical aspect is the biggest difference. It’s something I’ve worked on a lot, off the pitch. I’ve been working with the sports scientists and analysts to track my performances in the physical side of the game – it’s somewhere I feel I’ve improved.
“Next season I want to do better individually and as a team. A lot of the lads in here are second-year scholars, too. I think we’ve done alright and will hopefully get better. It’s a good environment to be around.”