David Unsworth hailed Tyler Onyango's impressive comeback performance after the teenage midfielder made his long-awaited return in Everton Under-23s' dramatic 4-2 victory over Leeds United on Monday night.
The 18-year-old midfielder hadn’t played since picking up a serious ankle injury in the FA Youth Cup back in April and lasted 80 minutes as the Blues came from two goals down to take all three points in a thrilling contest at Southport FC.
After strikes from Amari Miller and Sam Greenwood put the away side in a commanding position, Blues defender Eli Campbell headed home shortly before the interval to halve the deficit.
Everton then turned on the style in the second half, with Lewis Dobbin, Charlie Whitaker and substitute Rhys Hughes all on target for Unsworth's side.
“I actually praised the players at half-time because I thought we played really well," Unsworth told evertonfc.com.
"We just had to tighten things up in both boxes and stop rushing things. We gave away two soft goals but then got a lifeline and I told them that they’d win the game if we kept playing our football.
“The attitude and character of this team can never be questioned. We’re learning with every game and we’re the second youngest team in the league. It’s a big ask for them but we’re very proud of them."
On Onyango's display, Unsworth added: “He was great, he played really well.
"He’s been training for a couple of weeks and he got some minutes in a bounce game during the international break. Anything past 60 minutes tonight was a bonus so to get 80 minutes from him is terrific and I’m so glad to see him back.
"The physios have had nothing but praise for him for his work ethic and he’s a great guy."
Leeds' opener came just before the half-hour. Miller ran onto a through pass and held off a challenge from Ryan Astley before steering the ball past Harry Tyrer.
There was a healthy attendance at the Pure Stadium and judging by the crowd reaction to the goal, there were almost as many Leeds fans as Evertonians.
The visitors were indebted to goalkeeper Kristoffer Klaesson a couple of minutes after taking the lead when he made an excellent double save to deny Isaac Price and then Stanley Mills. The second stop was superb – the Norwegian somehow turning the effort from Mills onto the crossbar.
On 36 minutes, the advantage was doubled when Kris Moore crossed from the right and Greenwood volleyed into the net.
The Blues desperately needed to hit back before the break and they did with four minutes of the half remaining when Campbell planted a firm header past the keeper from a corner.
It was Campbell’s first goal for the Under-23s and gave Everton something to go for in the second period.
David Unsworth sent his players out a good five minutes early for the restart and it worked!
Almost immediately, Dobbin’s low shot was well saved by Klaesson and on 53 minutes the score was levelled.
Tyrer’s clearance was touched into the path of Mills by Whitaker and when the ball was squared to Dobbin, he finished with aplomb.
The decisive goal came five minutes from the end. An effort from Tom Cannon, on as a replacement for Dobbin, was deflected into the feet of Whitaker and he made no mistake against his hometown club.
It capped an excellent comeback and there was still time for Hughes to drill a low shot into the bottom corner of the net to complete a superb 4-2 victory.
“We played some really good stuff and I’m really pleased for the players," added Unsworth.
"It’s got to be the start for us, we need to get on a good run now and get our season under way.
"We believe in them, but they’ve got to have belief in themselves.”