David Unsworth praised “natural goalscorer” Ellis Simms’ work-ethic and hunger to learn after the striker came off the bench to hit the winner as Everton Under-23s beat Blackburn Rovers 2-1 on Monday night.
Lewis Gibson gave the Toffees a first-half lead before Joseph Rankin-Costello levelled for the away side shortly after the break.
In a game played at a relentless tempo at Goodison Park – Everton hit the woodwork three times during the match – Simms’ strike 14 minutes from time secured maximum points for the young Blues.
In-form forward Anthony Gordon had scored five goals in his previous three matches for the Toffees but turned provider for the game’s decisive moment – brilliantly spinning Rovers midfielder Brad Lyons before threading a perfectly-weighted through pass to set Simms bearing in on goal.
The striker displayed deadly composure to take the ball in his stride with one deft touch before placing an accurate shot past the despairing Joe Hilton in the Blackburn goal.
The victory moves Unsworth’s unbeaten team up to third in Premier League 2.
“It was a hard-fought win,” the manager told evertontv. “Blackburn are a good side and they have a lot of good young players.
“We could have been out of sight by half-time, but we weren’t quite as clinical as we were against Southampton [an 8-2 win on 30 August].
“But all credit to the players for grinding the result out.
“I can’t praise Ellis enough for the work he has done since we came back for pre-season on 1 July.
“He is a work in progress, but he is a natural goalscorer.
“We’re asking to him to play in a way that brings others into the game, too, showing work-rate and holding up the play.
“His movement when he came on tonight was exactly what we’ve been working on with him, and we’re delighted with that.
“The goal will do his confidence the world of good, but I was more excited about his movement to get in behind and get that opportunity.
“And when he gets into those positions, we know he’ll finish.”
Antony Evans supplied three assists in that 8-2 victory against the Saints – and he again showcased his exceptional ability from dead-ball scenarios to create the young Blues’ opener 21 minutes in.
The 20-year-old’s free-kick from the right had a potent combination of swerve, dip and power. It was begging for a finishing touch and centre-back Gibson obliged - showing his own impressive technique to side-foot a first-time finish past Hilton.
Everton has already carved out numerous chances by this point. The electric Gordon forced former Toffees Under-23s stopper Hilton into smart stop when he shot firmly at goal after being played in by Nathangelo Markelo.
England Under-19 international Gordon also saw a venomous 25-yard effort whistle fractions over the bar. Hilton was rooted to the spot.
Everton skipper Morgan Feeney planted a header against the post after a terrific centre from Evans – but it was far from one-way traffic
Rovers skipper Joseph Grayson headed over from no more than six yards with the game just 10 minutes old, while full-back Samuel Hart lashed an effort wide as his team searched for an equaliser following Gibson’s opener.
Everton could have extended their advantage before the break, though, Gordon glancing a header over the bar from Matty Foulds’ cross.
Blackburn flew out of the traps in the second half and struck a leveller on 48 minutes, Rankin-Costello swivelling in the box before placing a shot into the bottom corner.
Everton came within the width of a post of reasserting their advantage 10 minutes later when Evans’ well-hit effort from 20 yards cannoned off the woodwork.
The Toffees continued to commit men forward, and manager Unsworth made his intentions clear when he replaced defenders Alex Denny and Gibson with forward talents Manasse Mampala and Simms.
And Simms was to prove the match-winner for Everton – latching onto to a through pass by Gordon and coolly slotting past Hilton.
The pair linked up again in the game’s dying moments, Gordon cutting the ball back to Simms who was unfortunate to see his low drive strike the inside of the post and come out.
No matter, the Toffees saw out the game to ensure they head into Friday’s game at Brighton & Hove Albion with their unbeaten record intact.
“We showed some good passages of play but we’re not at the level we can be yet,” Unsworth added.
“But it's still early in the season and it is great for these boys to win games.
“We’re certainly moving in the right direction.”