David Unsworth declared himself "very proud" of his Everton players after they secured their place to the knockout phase of the Leasing.com Trophy with a 2-2 draw against Crewe Alexandra on Tuesday night.
Oumar Niasse struck twice at Gresty Road, with the draw sufficient to see the Toffees progress.
Not even the home side taking an extra point after winning 5-4 on penalties could spoil Unsworth’s night.
“I wanted a reaction after the weekend [a 2-1 defeat to lLiverpool] and I got one,” he said. “Every single player put a shift in.
“We came here tonight to get the result that would take us through to the next stage of he competition for the first time, so I am very proud of the lads for that.
“I’m delighted for the players because they’ve had a couple of tough weeks, but they’ve bounced back and that’s what this group does.”
The Blues took the lead in the third minute when a first-time shot from Niasse took a wicked deflection on its way past Dave Richards in the home goal.
Both sides then had further opportunities to score in an entertaining opening period. Chuma Anene headed against the bar for Crewe and Niasse was denied by Richards when he broke through on goal.
The equaliser came a couple of minutes before half-time when Callum Ainley placed his shot from 22 yards into the bottom corner of the net.
The second half was also played at a lively tempo. Ainley came close to scoring his second goal of the night when he fired wide after a fine Crewe move, and a snapshot from Everton midfielder Harry Charsley was well blocked.
Morgan Feeney cleared an Anene header off the line and Toffees striker Ellis Simms, on as a substitute, forced Richards into a smart save when he shot from the angle on the right of the box.
Crewe are riding high in League Two and nine of their starting XI had featured in their game against Port Vale at the weekend, but Everton stood toe-to-toe with them and gave an impressive account of themselves.
Niasse restored the lead in the 75th minute when he found space on the edge of the area and fired a splendid low shot past Richards.
“Oumar gives you everything he’s got,” said Unsworth. “The lads love him and they were all singing his name in the dressing room at the end!
“The man is just infectious. His attitude is incredible and he got his goals tonight.”
Crewe pushed forward in search of an equaliser - but there was more than a touch of good fortune when their second leveller arrived 10 minutes from time. A cross-cum-shot from the right was poked home by Owen Dale from close range and the game finished 2-2 after normal time.
That took the match to penalty kicks and it was the home side who prevailed on the night – but Everton emerged unbeaten from Group E over three 90-minute ties.
“That’s a great achievement because the league clubs want to progress in this tournament, so for us to draw two and win one tells us where our lads are,” said Unsworth.
“I am so happy for them.
“It’s a new group, at times it’s been challenging and it can be frustrating when we don’t hit the heights of last season, but that can happen.
“And when you see performances like that tonight it makes it all worthwhile.”