Everton Under-21s moved comfortably into the knockout phase of the Premier League International Cup with a 2-0 victory over Dynamo Zagreb at Walton Hall Park.
Second-half goals from Francis Okoronkwo and Katia Kouyate sealed a fourth, and thoroughly deserved, straight win in the group for Paul Tait’s side.
In truth it was a game that won’t linger long in the memory, but it was a case of ‘job done’ for the young Blues.
The opening half lacked a cutting edge for large periods and on the rare occasions when half-chances were fashioned, they were squandered.
Dorian Klarin in the Zagreb goal was at least tested by two early Everton free-kicks, one from McKenzie Hunt and the other from Isaac Price. Price was certainly closer than he was later in the half when he fired two shooting opportunities wide of the target.
At the other end, Zan Luk Leban was well positioned to catch a very well struck drive from Zagreb captain Luka Lukanovic following a short corner routine.
Neither goalkeeper had been seriously tested and even when Matthew Apter’s shot in the 40th minute looked goal-bound, it was superbly blocked behind for a corner.
The opening goal came seven minutes after the half-time interval. Liam Higgins played a delicious cross into the Zagreb penalty area and Okoronkwo was never likely to spurn the chance.
Apter came close to doubling the lead shortly after when his low drive was turned behind by Klarin as Zagreb started to look a bit ragged – as summed up by four yellow cards in the opening quarter of an hour of the second half.
Leban didn’t have a great deal to do all night but he had to be alert to push away a close-range effort from Matej Sakota at the end of a rare Zagreb assault.
On 72 minutes, Head Coach Tait brought on Kouyate to replace Okoronkwo and within 30 seconds the substitute found the net.
He picked the ball up on the right flank and skipped inside before planting an excellent finish past Klarin.
Luka Vrbancic was sent-off for Zagreb in the closing stages following a poor challenge on Price that left the Everton man needing treatment and with the last kick of the game the lively Isaac Heath struck the Zagreb post.