David Unsworth described Antony Evans’ spectacular last-gasp winner as “world class” after Everton Under-23s beat Brighton & Hove Albion 2-1 on a night of thrilling drama at the Amex Stadium.
The victory sends the unbeaten young Blues top of the Premier League 2 table – although Chelsea could leapfrog the Toffees with a win at Southampton on Saturday.
Anthony Gordon’s second-minute strike looked like proving decisive on the south coast, with Brighton struggling to break down a resolute and well-organised Everton team.
But Seagulls defender Warren O’Hora made a breakthrough for the home side one minute from time, lashing in from close range.
Evans was to have the final word, though. After collecting the ball on the left flank 25 yards out, he cut inside and swerved a sensational right-footed effort into the top corner, leaving Brighton keeper Hugo Keto utterly helpless.
Manager Unsworth said the Blues’ late strike was just reward for an “outstanding team performance”.
"I’m thrilled with the boys, the way they approached the game and how they executed the gameplan was magnificent," he told evertonfc.com
"I’d have praised them even if it had finished 1-1. But what a goal it was to win it. It was a world-class finish from Antony and a fitting goal to win any game.
“He is a quality young player. He has that ability in abundance.
“He needs to find some more consistency, but I love him as a player.
“He has got great qualities. His work-rate tonight was incredible. He played from the right, and then went to the left because that’s what we needed at the time. As well as his goal, he did a great job for the team.”
Unsworth said Evans’ performance was one of a number of standout displays from his players – and reserved particular praise for indefatigable midfielder Beni Baningime.
“I thought Beni was the best player on the pitch, closely followed by Anthony Gordon, who was a threat all night, and Antony Evans,” he added.
“Morgan [Feeney] did brilliantly to get through the game even though he had a little injury. Young Joe Anderson was excellent at left-back.
“It was a top away performance against a very good team.”
Everton took just two minutes to hit the front. Baningime was the creator, playing a precision through ball to set Gordon blazing clear down the left flank.
Gordon drove forward before checking back onto his right foot and rifling a shot underneath Hugo Keto in the Brighton goal. It was his sixth goal in five games for the Toffees.
The home side responded well and a 25-yard effort from Jordan Davies whistled just over Harry Tyrer’s crossbar.
It was Everton who were to have the game’s next clear chance, though.
Gordon was the architect on this occasion, squaring for Ellis Simms who had found space on the edge of the penalty area.
The striker attempted to place an effort inside the post but his effort went agonisingly wide.
Harry Charsley was making his presence felt in the middle of the park, consistently harrying the opposition and driving forward with possession.
Just after the half-hour mark, he displayed his quality on the ball – aiming a raking pass towards Gordon who had darted in behind the Brighton defence.
The ball bounced at a slightly awkward height for the England under-19 international, though, and he couldn’t get the required purchase on his shot. Keto made a comfortable save.
Brighton continued to pose a threat and a long-range attempt by Peter Gwargis was well-held by Tyrer in first-half stoppage time.
The home team enjoyed decent spells of possession in the second half but failed to create any clear-cut opportunities until their 89th-minute leveller. After a corner was only partially cleared, O’Hora latched onto the loose ball and fired past Tyrer.
Everton had chances to put the game to bed before that goal, with Gordon flashing one shot over the bar and seeing another well-saved by Keto.
The Blues were to get the result their performance deserved, however, with Evans' stunning stoppage-time goal securing maximum points for Unsworth’s team.
“It’s great feeling when you come away and play at a team’s stadium and get a performance like that from a group of young players,” the manager added. "They followed the gameplan to the letter, that’s what I’m pleased most about.
“These players worked for the team tonight. They were very unselfish – our physical stats will be through the roof. The work-rate and commitment were outstanding.”