Paul Tait says Everton got their reward for taking the game to Brighton & Hove Albion after two early goals at Goodison Park set up an FA Youth Cup quarter-final tie with West Bromwich Albion.
Defender Michael Collins drilled in after 10 minutes to ensure Everton had something tangible to show for a fast start which saw the Blues swarm all over their visitors.
And before Brighton had a chance to catch their breath Ellis Simms pounced ruthlessly on some defensive hesitation to score his fourth goal of this season’s competition.
Everton created a host of further openings but also spent extended periods without the ball, as a Brighton side which had turfed out West Ham United and Manchester United to reach the fifth round found their attacking feet.
“I am very pleased with the result and the performance,” Everton Under-18 manager Tait told evertontv.
“We started really well, took the game to Brighton and got our goals.
"We were on the front foot and showed some really good technique in terms of our forward passes and runs and athleticism
“But we had a spell before half-time when we were giving them the ball in dangerous areas.
“We had a chat at half-time about being more ruthless and solid and I was really pleased with the defensive side of it in the second half.”
Collins’ strike was simple in its creation and unerring in its execution.
The full-back made tracks down the left and slipped a pass inside to Anthony Gordon. He returned the favour first time, playing in Collins to smack his finish across Roco Rees and into the far corner.
Brighton goalkeeper Rees had earlier done well to punch clear with Simms loitering and aiming to connect with Collins’ delivery, swung over from the left.
Rees, though, was left flat-footed and helpless when Simms took it upon himself to double Everton’s lead.
The striker muscled centre-back Kacper Lopata off the ball and promptly made a beeline for the box, cutting in from the left.
The angle was against Simms – indeed, cutting a pass back for a teammate appeared his only option. Not a bit of it. Simms wrapped his right boot around the ball, sending it crashing into the roof of the net at a rate of knots.
“They were two very good goals,” said Tait. “Michael doesn’t score many but that was a cracking finish with his left foot. Then Ellis did what he has been doing all season."
Collins and wideman Gordon were rampant down Everton’s left flank, opening up Brighton time and again.
Rees saved down to his left after Gordon employed his quick feet to work a yard of space in the box and shoot. The same Everton player blazed past right-back Sam Packham before having his subsequent low effort deflected into the side netting.
Everton bookended this early period of dominance by twice hitting the frame of the goal. Centre-back Joe Anderson’s header crashed into the bar after he burst onto a corner from Gordon on three minutes.
And not long after the half-hour immaculate right-back Elliot Richards, whose terrific back-post defending had repelled Brighton with the game still scoreless, saw his effort cannon off the bar after helping Mackenzie Hunt’s delivery towards goal.
Everton were not having things all their own way by this stage. Brighton’s busy right sider Ryan Longman twice had shots blocked at close quarters, first by Anderson throwing himself in the way of the ball on 24 minutes and soon after by midfielder Einar Iversen.
Brighton would have fancied their chances of working Harry Tyrer for the first time, four minutes before the break.
Hunt was cautioned for pulling back the fast advancing Teddy Jenks 25 yards out. Peter Gwargis stood over the free-kick but his sweet left foot failed him as he sent his strike careering skywards.
Rees flashed out his left glove to save one-on-one from Simms – who has 19 league goals to add to his Cup quartet this term – six minutes after the break.
The Everton forward was back for more 60 seconds later, set away by Iversen and bearing down on goal. It took two to stop the powerful Simms, Lopata holding up the forward as best he could before midfielder Jack Spong entered to lend his teammate a hand.
Korede Adedoyin fizzed a strike fractionally wide on the hour – soon after Ryan Astley had cleared from in front of his own line following Longman’s run and delivery across the face of goal.
Everton were demonstrating plenty of steel to match their silk. Astley absorbed a ferocious shot flush in his midriff, while Iversen and Bobby Carroll enthusiastically went about their chasing and tackling in midfield.
Substitute Loren Tolaj’s header looped over the top after the forward met the latest in a succession of inviting deliveries from Packham. Longman pulled to the left and drifted over a ball which Swiss Tolaj nodded over with the goal gaping minutes from the end.
Between times defender Packham went for it himself, progressing into the area via a one-two with Marc Leonard to shoot from close range, but Anderson stood tall to block at the near post.
It was fellow centre-half Astley sliding in to intervene when Albion striker Danny Cashman was poised to convert Longman’s centre
“The centre-backs were excellent, along with Elliot at right-back and, at times, Michael at left-back,” said Tait.
“They defended really well. Their techniques clearing the ball were great, not slashing at balls, proper clearances.
“The midfield lads covered a huge amount of ground and that is not always the case because we have had a lot of the ball this season.
“That was a different side of the game they had to execute in the second half; defensive solidity, pressing, winning back the ball and counter attacking.
“They got through a massive amount of work, all three of them [Carroll, Hunt and Iversen].”
There will be a new name inscribed on the FA Youth Cup for the first time in six years following Chelsea’s third round exit to Manchester United.
And with this mature and rounded performance Everton – who are also at the summit of Premier League North – kept themselves right in the mix of teams vying to break the London’s club’s stranglehold on the competition and become the first winners not called Chelsea since Norwich City in 2013.
“The bigger picture is we are developing individuals for the first team,” added Tait.
“But we are having a good cup run along the way and we want to carry it on.
“And in the league, they are playing for points, they look at the table and it is driving them on.”