David Unsworth hailed Ellis Simms' all-round centre-forward display after the striker scored a dramatic stoppage-time winner in the Blues' 2-1 victory over Derby County on Monday night.
The 19-year-old collected a Tyler Onyango pass in the game’s dying moments, span his marker, before powering in on goal and slotting a clinical finish past Derby goalkeeper Henrich Ravas.
His goal sparked joyous celebrations, with Simms making a beeline for boss Unsworth on the Everton bench. Simms was swiftly joined by his jubilant Everton teammates as the Toffees toasted a much-deserved victory.
Everton – who were dominant for extended spells of the contest – had taken the lead through Manasse Mampala before being pegged back against the run of play when Derby attacker Cameron Cresswell struck 10 minutes from time.
“It was quite a special way to win the match,” Unsworth told evertonfc.com.
“It was a great goal to win it, too, a great team goal. It was a fantastic performance tonight. We were on top for the whole of the game.
“I thought Ellis was absolutely terrific.
“Take the goal out of it – he’ll get all the acclaim for that - what he’s done tonight was what we’ve been trying to work on all season with him. His hold-up play was excellent, as was his linking with the midfield and defending for the team.
“His touch to spin in behind for the goal and his finish was top class. He was a handful.
“He hasn’t half come on this season. We all know he can finish but you need to have all the other attributes to be a Premier League striker and he’s certainly going in the right direction.”
The game was Everton Under-23s' official Head’s Up fixture, with Unsworth’s side joining the Blues first team in showing its support for the mental health campaign, which aims to highlight the power of talking as a way to support one another.
The match sparked into life on 17 minutes.
Left-back Joe Anderson found space down in the attacking third and whipped a teasing delivery into the box. Con Ouzounidis escaped his marker and headed fractions wide.
Derby’s first effort of note came on the half-hour mark. Jahmal Hector-Ingram burst through on goal, but Everton goalkeeper Joao Virginia was alert and brave – exploding off his line and diving at the striker’s feet to collect the ball.
Back came Everton and Dennis Adeniran cleverly manufactured space for a shot 25 yards out before curling a shot agonisingly wide. Derby keeper Ravas was beaten all ends up.
Simms then came within the width of the post of breaking the deadlock one minute before half time. Mampala served up a cross from the right flank and the powerful frontman rose brilliantly and glanced a header off the inside of the post.
Adeniran’s skill, power and positive intent was causing the Derby backline all manner of problems. Just after the interval he drove forward before taking aim from 20 yards, forcing Ravas into an excellent stop low down to his left.
Everton had another opportunity 66 minutes in – Mampala seized on an error by Derby defender Jordan Brown and went in one-on-one with Ravas but his shot was too close to the keeper.
Mampala made no mistake two minutes later. After chesting down a lofted pass from Anderson, the forward swivelled before placing a precision effort in off the inside of the post.
Derby drew level 10 minutes from time, substitute Cresswell putting the finishing touch on a slick team move.
Stung by the goal, Everton pushed forward in search of a winner.
The Blues created a succession of chances, with Ryan Astley seeing an effort cleared off the line and Ouzoundis’ header well-saved by Ravas.
Derby defender Brown was sent off for a second bookable offence as the game entered stoppage time but the Rams looked like they were going to escape with a point.
Everton weren’t to be denied, however, and after taking a pass from Onyango on the half-turn, Simms slotted home to earn the Blues maximum points.
“We’ve worked in a different way in the past couple of weeks," Unsworth added. "We had to go back to basics at the end of January.
“I’m delighted for the players. Their efforts in training have been superb and they’ve got their rewards tonight with the performance and the victory.”