David Unsworth acclaimed the "incredible technique" of Antony Evans after he scored twice in Everton’s 3-0 Premier League Cup victory over Watford at Southport.
Evans found the net in the second half with a fine header and a fantastic free-kick after Matthew Foulds had fired home the opener.
“Antony’s had a couple of loan spells already and he’s in a good place at the moment,” said Unsworth. “It was no coincidence that when he wasn’t in the team, we didn’t win a game for a few weeks. At this level he’s a top player and, set-piece-wise, he’s as good as there is, the way he can manipulate the ball.
“Antony’s got incredible technique, he’s a real threat for us, he’s an honest boy and his work rate is always there for us. I’ve loved working with him over the last three or four years.”
This was the archetypal game of two halves at Pure Stadium.
Neither side showed sufficient cutting edge in the final third to break through in a scrappy first period.
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HIGHLIGHTS: FINE EVANS FREE-KICK CAPS COMFORTABLE UNDER-23S WIN
Harry Charsley sent an early header over the bar from an Alex Denny cross and, just before the break, Ellis Simms was teed up nicely by Evans but the striker’s angled drive was well saved by Harvey White.
Everton goalkeeper Nico Hansen was largely untested at the other end until he had to smother a shot from Watford left-back Lewis Gordon in first-half stoppage time.
The second period was altogether more productive and entertaining.
Just two minutes after the restart, Everton took the lead. Evans made space on the right and fed the ball to Simms, whose first-time shot flashed across the face of the goal where Foulds slammed it into the net.
The defender turned provider six minutes later when his cross from the left was expertly headed home by Evans.
The lively Foulds should have scored again on the hour mark but, after fine approach play from Evans and Simms, he pulled his effort wide of the target from 10 yards.
The third goal was the pick of the bunch – a real beauty. Evans was fouled 25-yards out and picked himself up to curl a wonderful direct free-kick over the wall and into the top corner of the net.
Watford had their moments but found Hansen in fine form. The young stopper made a string of fine saves and looked secure all evening.
“We wanted to make a change tonight because Harry Tyrer will play in the Youth Cup [at Derby County] on Wednesday night,” Unsworth explained. “Nico has been very patient and everything he did tonight was terrific. On that performance, he is now up to the level that we expect of him.
“I was delighted with all our young players tonight," he added. "It was a very young team, we were down to just four substitutes, but we played a system that suited us and it was a very satisfying win.
"We needed a performance like this to get back on track.”