Everton Under-23s will aim to strengthen their grip at the top of the Premier League 2 table when they visit Swansea City on Monday night - and boss David Unsworth insists his team must be on their mettle in south Wales.
While the young Blues are leading the pack, one point ahead of closest rivals Leicester City, Swansea are propping up the table, four points adrift in last place.
The Swans, however, have displayed their capacity to frustrate and upset the division’s top sides this season.
They held Everton to a 0-0 draw at Goodison Park back in August and pulled off a stunning a 5-1 victory away at title -challengers Derby County last month.
Toffees boss Unsworth insists his team must maintain their impressive performance levels if they are to achieve maximum points at the Swansea City Academy, 7pm kick-off.
“I watched their win against Derby and they performed really well – it goes to show how difficult a league this is,” Unsworth explains.
“If they play like that, it’ll be a tough night for us.
“And from game to game, you never know what strength of team any Under-23 side may put out, depending on who is available.
“Swansea like to play football and they’ve done very well with their group of players over the past two or three years.
“But we expect to win every match.”
The young Blues’ rise to the top of the table has been built on the foundation of an obdurate backline.
Everton have conceded just eight goals in 15 Premier League 2 matches this season – comfortably the best record of any side in the division.
For boss Unsworth – an uncompromising defender of such repute in his playing days – this represents a considerable source of pride.
“Every successful team is built on a sound defence,” he said.
“We’ve had Joao [Virginia] playing in goal, too, who has been a revelation for us.
“Morgan Feeney and Tyias Browning have been fantastic. Lewis Gibson’s come back from injury, and we’ve had young Ryan Astley come in and perform very well.
“We’ve been strong in that area and we’ve defended excellently for the majority of the season.
“It’s not just the defenders though, but the way we play - the way we press and defend as a team is important.
“It’s a good starting point for us.”
Unsworth has shaped an Under-23s squad with significant reserves of talent.
His side have been able to maintain their impressive form despite long-term injuries to defenders Gibson and Matthew Foulds, midfielder Alex Denny and striker Fraser Hornby.
All four are fit and available again, though, and manager says determining his starting XI is becoming an increasing challenge.
He insists this competitive environment will serve his players well as they strive to reach the next level.
“There are so many good players available to us now,” he explains.
“It’s difficult to decide who gets on the bench, never mind the team!
“You’ve got to earn the right to get your place and then you’ve got to keep it. There is always somebody vying for your place.
“When the team are playing so well, I know it is frustrating for the lads on the bench who are not getting a game at the end of every week.
“But that is part and parcel of learning what the professional game is like.
“We have got a great group of lads here, though.
“And I think there is still more to come from this group, too.”