David Unsworth said his Everton Under-23s team produced “an outstanding performance from start to finish” after they beat Portuguese side Benfica 2-0 in their Premier League International Cup clash at Southport.
Quickfire first-half strikes from Josh Bowler and Nathan Broadhead proved the difference at the Merseyrail Community Stadium as the young Blues overcame a talented Benfica outfit.
Unsworth’s side came into the game in fine form.
They put six past Tottenham Hotspur last weekend to soar to the top of Premier League 2, before dominating for large periods against League One Bradford City in a midweek Checkatrade Trophy clash.
They eventually were edged out on penalties after 1-1 draw at Valley Parade but transferred their vibrant attacking play against the Bantams into a winning performance in Southport.
Unsworth declared his delight with his young players’ tactical display against Benfica.
“It was great performance, a great win,” he told evertonfc.com. “We had excellent team shape and work ethic. The boys were outstanding from the first minute to the last. It’s a great result and I’m very proud of them.
“Every player performed to a good level tonight. We’re usually a pressing team, playing on the front foot, squeezing the life out of teams.
“But we knew, if we played that way tonight, we might get picked off. I can’t praise the players enough for how they executed the gameplan."
Benfica started brightly and would have had the game’s opening goal after a quarter of an hour were it not for some brilliant, last-ditch defending from Tyias Browning.
Striker Jose Gomes had the goal at his mercy after rounding ‘keeper Joao Virginia and fired a shot towards goal but Browning was there save the young Blues.
It was Everton who were to make the breakthrough, though, and in some style. On 26 minutes the dynamic Broadhead left the Benfica defence for dead with a driving run forward. Through on goal, his initial effort was saved by Duarto but he slotted home the rebound to put the young Blues ahead.
Two minutes later, Everton had their second. In a scintillating break forward, powerful forward Fraser Hornby found the onrushing Dennis Adeniran. The midfielder then played the ball into the path of Bowler who coolly finished to double the Toffees' lead.
Bowler almost had a second before the half was out but his effort was tipped round the post by the Benfica stopper. He also had a strong shout for a penalty when he was upended in the area, but the ref waved the Everton protests away.
Benfica put the young Blues under pressure in the second half – with Diogo Mendes and Bernardo Dias both going close.
The Toffees defended resolutely, however, and carried a constant threat on the counter-attack – particularly through the effervescent Bowler.
His and Broadhead’s first-half strikes were to prove decisive and Unsworth was eager to praise his goalscoring wingers’ performances.
“Josh was outstanding tonight,” he added. “He had one of those nights where he can do no wrong. He was outstanding.
“He is playing really well, as is Nathan. We knew we would have to counter-attack when we had the ball and the lads were terrific.”
Everton team: Virginia, Charsley, Browning, Feeney, Foulds, Galloway, Markelo, Adeniran, Bowler (Mampala 87'), Hornby (Sambou 66'), Broadhead (Evans 66').