David Unsworth says Everton Under-23s’ enterprising performance against Arsenal at Southport on Sunday points to a promising future for his inexperienced team.
Manager Unsworth fielded a youthful side, although it was one of the older heads in Nathan Broadhead who capped a sweeping move to give Everton the advantage on 41 minutes.
Everton retained the upper hand until the game entered its final quarter and Arsenal’s football grew chancier as the away team pursued an equaliser.
And Arsenal drew level when the consistently impressive Folarin Balogun – a player with two goals from five senior appearances – struck nine minutes from time.
“For 70 minutes, we were outstanding, probably the best we’ve played all season, with such a young team,” Unsworth told evertontv.
“I am so disappointed for the lads that they couldn’t see the job out.
“We played some fantastic football, forced the young lads to play in the right way and scored a brilliant goal.
“It was fantastic move and as good a goal as you’ll see at this level.
“But we couldn’t sustain it [tempo] and lost a bit of energy, at around 70-75 minutes, you could see we were zapped of everything.
“We put an extra man in midfield to try to help them see the game out but to be fair to Arsenal, they had a good 10-minute spell and scored in that period.
“But we were very good for 70 minutes and played the right way.
“It is a sign of what’s to come because that is our team for next year.”
Everton’s goal was the product of a flowing move constructed down the right.
Rhys Hughes wriggled out of a tight spot to feed 17-year-old Mathew Mallon, a 25th-minute replacement for Einar Iversen.
Mallon nudged the ball out of his feet and sent a tremendous cross to the far post, where Broadhead stole in to convert beyond Arsenal goalkeeper Tom Smith.
Everton – who finished the game with 10 men after midfielder Tyler Onyango received a second yellow card deep into stoppage time – were hauled back close to the end.
Balogun strode forwards following a prolonged spell of Arsenal possession to arc a 20-yard strike inside Harry Tyrer’s left post.
Goalkeeper Tyrer, who made a number of notable stops, didn’t have a chance.
“Balogun is a good young player with great potential and it was a great strike,” continued Unsworth.
“Arsenal have good young players and we went toe-to-toe with them.
“They were chasing the game and could gamble and put more pressure on us.
“But it was a cracking game, with two teams trying to play the right way, and I really enjoyed it.
“We had some great performances, [17-year-old midfielder] Isaac Price was terrific, so, too, [defenders, aged 19 and 20, respectively] Ryan Astley and Kyle John.
“Harry made a couple of great saves at crucial times.
“Massive compliments to the players for their performance
“We have changed our system and are looking to play a slightly different way and they gave us everything.
“I am very proud of the players.”