David Unsworth said his young Everton players “came of age” in their hugely impressive 1-0 Papa John’s Trophy victory at League One side Morecambe on Tuesday night.
A splendid strike from midfielder Sean McAllister on 64 minutes earned the Blues maximum points in their Group A opener.
Northern Ireland youth international McAllister turned sharply before unleashing an unstoppable 25-yard effort that rocketed past Morecambe goalkeeper Kyle Letheren.
The home team mounted pressure in search of a leveller but the young Blues defended with resilience and determination to see out a hard-earned win.
“I’m very proud of the players and the staff,” said Unsworth. “It’s been a great night.
“Every player was outstanding in terms of effort and desire. It was a great goal by Sean. I’m delighted for him.
"As much as we played well in our own half, we didn’t create too many chances. For Sean to pop up with a goal like that, it gave us some belief and something to hang on to.
“It’s a superb competition for our young players. I think players from the Academy become young men in this competition. What this is should do is give them belief.
“Myself and [assistant manager] John Ebbrell try to create the environment of a First Team and put demands on them that we would of First-Team players.
“But it’s in the games where they are scrutinised and tested and where they have to come of age, and I feel a lot of them did that tonight.
“Many of them could still be playing in the Under-18s league but they’re playing against men in this competition.
“That’s priceless for us in terms of their development.”
This video is for Season Ticket Holders, Official Members and Hospitality Members
This content is available for free to Digital Members
To view this content you need to be a Season Ticket Holder, Hospitality Member or Official Member.
HIGHLIGHTS: MORECAMBE 0-1 EVERTON
Unsworth believes his team’s formation was key to dealing with the challenges presented by a significantly more experienced Morecambe outfit.
He also paid tribute to the work-rate and application produced by his players throughout the contest at Mazuma Stadium.
“We’ve gone to a back-five because we’ve got no full-backs at the moment, and Stan [Mills] and Eli [Campbell] are doing a terrific job for us [as wing-backs]," he added.
“I felt it [the system] helped us tonight, having an extra body in the box.
"The midfield boys worked their socks off and Charlie Whitaker was outstanding [in attack], he worked tirelessly.
“I thought the back three [Ryan Astley, Reece Welch and Joe Anderson] were superb – and they had to be. You can’t fault anybody tonight.
“We know we can pass the ball and play through the thirds, but when you come away from home, you have to compete.
"Even if our First Team came here in the FA Cup, they’d have spells where they would have to compete in areas like set-pieces and wide free-kicks.
“Our boys stood up to that, so I’m delighted for them.”
The victory puts the young Blues top of Group A.
Unsworth’s team return to action on Friday when they host Sheffield United in a Premier League Cup clash at Southport FC.
The Toffees’ next Papa John’s Trophy match is on Tuesday 28 September when they travel to League Two team Carlisle United.