David Unsworth declared Everton Under-23s "can play even better” after his side produced a devastating exhibition of attacking football to beat Southampton 8-2 in a remarkable Premier League 2 clash on Friday night.
The Toffees fell two goals behind at Southport FC’s Pure Stadium but went on to overwhelm the Saints with a performance rich in verve, invention and ruthlessness.
The electric Anthony Gordon hit a first-half brace to ensure the young Blues went in to half-time on level terms. He has now scored five goals in his past three matches.
Everton - who had drawn their opening three Premier League 2 games - ratcheted up the pressure after the break and, after defender Matty Foulds headed them in front, continued to pour forward with speed and purpose.
Harry Charsley scored the young Blues’ fourth, and Antony Evans, Alex Denny, Morgan Feeney and substitute Manasse Mampala also got on the scoresheet as Unsworth’s team ran riot.
“It’s a great result - and in the second half it was a great performance - but we can play even better,” said Unsworth.
“I’m a bit of a perfectionist and I know we can improve.
“We missed a number of opportunities and their goalkeeper was probably their best player.
“I’m delighted for the boys, though. There were some really good performances attacking-wise.
“It’s a decent start to the season now, with three draws and the win tonight. We feel we’re getting there – but we’re not the finished article yet."
With the Premier League 2 champions in a spot of bother after Saints established a two-goal lead on 33 minutes, in-form forward Gordon stepped up to the mantle.
His first goal – which came almost instantaneously after Southampton’s second - was a peach.
The England Under-18 international showcased his quick feet to work some space 20 yards out, before expertly curling a precision finish into the bottom corner. Southampton goalkeeper Jack Bycroft was helpless.
With his already sky-high confidence given another boost, Gordon set off on a explosive dart at the Saints backline just three minutes later.
The Southampton defenders had no answer, and he was bundled over in the box for a clear penalty.
Gordon took the kick himself, sending Bycroft the wrong way to get the Toffees back on terms.
“It was a top performance from Anthony,” Unsworth said. “He looks very dangerous in that central role – getting into space and running at defenders. He’s adding goals to his game now, which is the end product which we always wanted."
Southampton had taken the lead midway through the first half, Christoph Klarer prodding in from a corner. The away side doubled their advantage through striker Marcus Barnes, who finished at the second time of asking after Harry Tyrer made a fine stop from his initial effort.
The Blues’ response was immediate and Gordon’s brace was followed by a sustained spell of pressure.
The young forward had the chance to complete his hat-trick early in the second half but saw a penalty cannon off the post. Gordon had won the spot-kick himself after being scythed down by Saints defender Kayne Ramsay.
Everton did not have to wait long to hit the front, Foulds heading in from Evans’ devilish corner delivery.
And Charsley made it four after capitalising on some hesitation in the Southampton defence to steal possession and slot past Bycroft
Evans’ corners were causing havoc and Denny bundled home from another inviting centre to make it 5-2.
“Antony’s always had the ability to deliver a set-piece, he can put it anywhere with spin, dip and pace,” Unsworth explained.
Everton were relentless at this point and Evans got on the scoresheet himself when he raced clear before lashing inside Bycroft's post, and Morgan Feeney’s first-time finish made it 7-2.
Substitute Mampala rounded off the scoring, guiding the ball home after another splendid crossfield pass from Evans.
“We’ve got a two-week break before our next match, and it’s a good way to go into it,” Unsworth added.
“We’ll be working very hard over this period.
"We’ll be honing in on what we want for the rest of the season.”