David Unsworth emphasised his pride in his Everton Under-23 players after they secured the Premier League 2 title with 1-0 win over Brighton & Hove Albion at a buoyant Goodison Park on Monday night.
Josh Bowler was the Toffees’ match-winner, with his fine individual goal midway through the first half proving decisive.
On a dramatic evening at the Grand Old Lady, Brighton striker Viktor Gyokeres missed a glorious chance to equalise eight minutes from time when he put a penalty over the bar.
A leveller would have been cruel on Unsworth’s men, who created a host of gilt-edged opportunities throughout a pulsating contest. Anything less than maximum points for Everton would have forced the title race into the final round of matches.
Manager Unsworth highlighted the team’s togetherness, work-rate and winning mentality as the qualities which underpinned their charge towards Premier League 2 glory.
“I’m very proud and it’s a great night for the Club,” said Unsworth, who also guided the Under-23s to success in the competition in 2016/17.
“We should have been out of sight and scored maybe three, four or five goals. But we won the game and that was the main thing.
“I’m so proud of this group of players and my staff as well, because they have worked so hard.
“It was a great performance tonight. At 1-0, it’s always a little bit nervy and then they get the opportunity with the penalty.
“Fortune favoured us a little bit, but I think we deserved that tonight, because we’ve been fantastic all season.
“Since the first day of pre-season, on 1 July, the players have been amazing. We work them very, very hard – and to get over the line and achieve something like this is a great feeling.
“They are all very together as a group, they’ve got a real desire to win and they’ve just got better and better as the season has gone on.”
Bowler’s 22nd-minute strike showcased the dynamic forward’s expansive range of attributes.
Cutting inside from the right flank, the 20-year-old drove with pace at the visitors’ defence. Brighton’s Jayson Molumby attempted to close him down, but Bowler displayed his strength to shrug off the midfielder’s challenge before placing an unstoppable left-footed shot past goalkeeper Rob Sanchez.
Bowler, who signed for Everton from Queens Park Rangers in 2017, was a constant menace during the game, regularly forcing the Brighton backline to retreat with his direct, powerful running.
He had chances to add to his goal tally in the second half but saw another fizzing left-footed effort deflected just wide, before seeing a well-hit shot well blocked by a Brighton defender.
Unsworth said Bowler’s dazzling goalscoring display underlines the winger’s significant potential.
“When he performs like that, he fully justifies the reason why we brought him to the Football Club,” the manager added.
“It was probably his best ever performance for us. Hopefully that can catapult him to the next level.”