David Unsworth believes Everton Under-23s’ impressive 3-2 victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers on Monday night will provide an important injection of confidence for his young side.
Ellis Simms struck twice in an absorbing contest at Southport FC’s Pure Stadium, with the game settled by a late own goal from Wolves midfielder Owen Otasowie.
The Midlands side hit the front early on through Benny Ashley-Seal, before two typically predatory Simms strikes turned the game on its head.
Dion Sanderson levelled for the visitors before half-time but Otasowie’s own goal nine minutes from the end ensured maximum points for Everton, who move up to eighth in the Premier League 2 table.
With the likes of Morgan Feeney, Lewis Gibson, Antony Evans, Dennis Adeniran and Anthony Gordon unavailable, Toffees manager Unsworth named an inexperienced side.
He was impressed by how they stood up to the challenge against a strong Wolves outfit.
“It was a great performance from a young team,” Unsworth told evertonfc.com.
“It was big team performance and there were some great individual displays throughout that – Nathan Markelo was terrific, Ellis got his goals, the back five were good and big Con [Ouzounidis] - he is doing so well after his injury.
“We had a lot of players playing together for the first time. It feels like a new group.
“We set up in a way which we felt would help the players. We played some great stuff, particularly in the first half, and then we changed our shape to dig in. We did a lot of work in training and the players showed they were listening and that they could apply that in a game situation. That’s always pleasing for a coach.
“It’s a much-needed win and I’m sure it will bring a lot of confidence to this young group.”
After Wolves got off to a dream start when Ashley-Seal prodded home from close range after just two minutes, Simms showcased his ruthlessness in front of goal to put Everton in the ascendency.
On 10 minutes, the 18-year-old frontman intercepted a loose ball before homing on goal. The powerful striker then steadied himself before calmly slotting past Wolves keeper Harry Burgoyne.
His next strike owed much to defensive duo Matty Foulds and Joe Anderson.
Foulds sent in an excellent dipping corner delivery, which was met by Anderson at the back post. He played a first-time volleyed pass across goal, where Simms was alive to hammer an effort into the roof of the net.
“Ellis’s game is improving all the time,” Unsworth said. “He is still a big work in progress and has a long way to go but he is on an upward curve and he did great.
“We know he’s got that finishing ability – that’s a given for us. It’s the other bits about being an all-round centre-forward that we want.
“Being able to hold the ball up and run the channels, play one and two-touch, and be strong in the air as well. The kid is hungry for goals and he is doing all right.”
Wolves’ response was instantaneous after Simms’ second, however, as Sanderson’s powerful shot from 25 yards found the bottom corner.
Both sides had chances in the second half, with Einar Iversen seeing a shot deflected inches wide and Wolves forward Elliot Watt forcing a fine save from Nico Hansen.
The winner came deep into the second half when wing-back Kyle John – excellent throughout – made a trademark lung-busting surge down the right before fizzing in a low cross aimed at Simms. Wolves midfielder Otasowie attempted to intercept but only succeeded in turning the ball into his own goal.
“Kyle was a bundle of energy up and down the right, playing in a system that really suits him as a wing-back,” Unsworth added.
“He’s got terrific pace, which is fantastic for any young player to have.
“He’s a great lad, he’s honest and we expect a lot from him, especially when he performs like he did against Wolves.
“He probably set a new bar. He has got to aspire to reach that level every game and go above it if he wants to kick on and be a top player, which potentially he could be."