David Unsworth said Morgan Feeney’s winner in the Premier League Cup final provided a fitting end to an “outstanding season” for his Everton Under-23s team.
The Toffees beat Newcastle United 1-0 at Goodison Park to complete a trophy double for Unsworth’s team, who wrapped up the Premier League 2 title last month.
Skipper Feeney headed in from Antony Evans’ cross on 59 minutes to secure a deserved victory for the young Blues, who were the dominant force for extended periods during the game.
The triumph means Everton become the first team to win the double in the current format of development football.
Manager Unsworth reserved special praise for match-winner Feeney, highlighting the character the 20-year-old has shown to recover from knee surgery and get back to the top of his game.
The centre-back was sidelined for six months last year as he underwent operations to correct a long-standing problem with his patella tendons.
On Tuesday, Feeney's exemplary form over the campaign was recognised with a nomination for the Premier League 2 Player of the Season award.
“It was quite fitting that Morgan got the winning goal," Unsworth told evertontv. "It was our skipper scoring at the Gwladys Street End, close to where he sits!
“He has had horrendous knee injuries - injuries that could have finished a lesser player.
“The work he’s done with the physios, the sports science department... He’s shown a grit and determination to fight through the pain barrier – I’ve never known anything like it for a young player.
“He leads by example and he's a terrific captain.
“I’m immensely proud of this whole group of players, though. We should have scored more.
“Newcastle came to frustrate, and they did that at times, but we created a lot of chances."
On 15 April, the Toffees produced one of their best performances of the season to see off closest rivals Brighton & Hove Albion 1-0 and secure a second Premier League 2 triumph in three years.
Unsworth’s team stepped up again in a high-stakes contest against Newcastle – playing on the front foot and creating a host of opportunities.
Evans and Fraser Hornby could have broken the deadlock before Feeney made the breakthrough, and the brilliant Josh Bowler hit the post with a rasping drive from 20 yards.
The winger - who scored the decisive goal in that win against Brighton - was in scintillating form, showcasing his speed, trickery, balance and ball-striking ability.
Unsworth says Bowler’s recent explosive displays underline he is a player with considerable potential.
“That was a top performance from Josh,” Unsworth added. “The way he’s performed in the past three, four months… He’s just a top player.
“Hopefully this team’s success can be the springboard for individuals to have great careers.
“It’s a terrific achievement for them to win two trophies. They’re just a great group of young players.
“We’ve had a number of players who have had excellent seasons, and as a team they’ve been outstanding.”