Everton Under-23s came from two goals down to take a point from their Premier League 2 opener at Blackburn Rovers on Monday night.
Late goals from Charlie Whitaker and Stanley Mills dragged Everton back from the brink in a thoroughly entertaining contest at Ewood Park.
Whitaker headed in from a corner with just over a quarter-of-an-hour to play before Mills hammered in an unstoppable half-volley nine minutes from time to draw the scores level.
“I’m exhausted, I feel like I’ve played myself!" smiled manager David Unsworth.
“Great credit to the players for coming back and not losing the game. We weren’t at our best tonight. We were a very young team against an older team and it makes a huge difference.
“We had six scholars playing, which is fantastic and what we want, and it took us a while to get into the pace of the game.
"Blackburn are a really good side and some of their players have been involved with their first team. It was a great test for us, physically, and we stood up to it.
“At 70 minutes, I didn’t think we’d get something from the game.”
Everton started brightly. Isaac Price made half a yard of space for himself 25 yards out in the seventh minute and unleashed a lovely curling shot that was destined for the top corner until Jordan Eastham acrobatically turned the ball behind.
From the resultant corner, Ryan Astley’s header was straight at the keeper.
Blackburn settled and enjoyed some sustained possession in the opening 20 minutes – albeit their final efforts were of little trouble to Harry Tyrer.
Eastham rescued the hosts again just after the half-hour mark when he somehow kept out an Astley header from a delightful centre by Rhys Hughes.
Hughes then squandered a chance of his own when he got underneath his effort from a Kyle John cross and sent the ball sailing over the crossbar.
At the other end, Everton were indebted to Tyrer when he dashed off his line to block an effort from Connor McBride when the Rovers midfielder was through on goal.
Blackburn opened the scoring with the last kick of the first half. McBride crashed a stoppage time free-kick from the edge of the box through the Everton wall but Tyrer reacted well to save and was unlucky to see Sam Burns prod home the loose ball.
Tyrer was also more than a touch unfortunate to concede the second goal on 63 minutes. Everton were undone by a swift counter attack and, after Tyrer had saved well from Burns, Jack Vale turned the ball into the empty net.
Everton halved the deficit in the 73rd minute when Whitaker headed home from a Hughes corner.
It was a just reward for Whitaker as he had earned the corner kick with an excellent effort that was very well saved by Eastham.
The equaliser came with nine minutes to go.
A Hughes free-kick on the right by the corner flag was headed clear but Mills lashed a stunning half-volley into the top corner of the net.
“We know that he’s got that in his locker,” said Unsworth. “It’s a fantastic strike. He can play right-back and right-midfield and we are still trying to find his best position, but we know he can finish.
“I am so delighted for all the boys and they will have learned more in those 90 minutes than in all the pre-season games put together.
"They are judged on games like this, where it matters, and at the end of the game we could have gone on and won it.”