David Unsworth said it was a case of “job done” after his Everton Under-23s team ensured their place in the knockout stages of the Premier League Cup with a 1-1 draw against Blackburn Rovers at the Merseyrail Community Stadium on Friday night.
Anthony Gordon’s superbly-taken 69th-minute equaliser saw the Toffees take a point from their Group B clash after Daniel Butterworth had put the visitors ahead just after half-time.
The draw means Everton qualify for the last 16 with a game to spare. The Premier League 2 leaders host Sheffield United in their final group stage contest on 24 February.
In a game played in windy and bitingly cold conditions in Southport, boss Unsworth was delighted by the way his side stood up to the task.
He says his team are determined to go deep in the competition as they fight for honours on two fronts.
“I think the draw was a fair result,” he said.
“Both teams tried to play but conditions were difficult. Because of the wind, they had the better of the first half, and us in the second half.
“We stuck in there in the first half and then, in the second half, we maybe could have won it.
“But we needed a draw to get through to the next round and we got it.
“It continues our fine run of performances and results. We did the job tonight.
“Every time you enter a competition as an Everton player, you want to win it. That’s our mindset.”
The visitors got off to a bright start and had the game’s first chance through skipper Taylor Magloire, who swivelled and shot fractions wide from six yards out.
Everton were next to threaten. Fraser Hornby’s deflected free-kick went just past the post, before Bassala Sambou headed over from the resulting corner.
Rovers winger then Stefan Mols shot off target when well positioned, before Hornby forced a superb save from Charlie Albinson.
The Scottish striker – captaining the team for the second successive match – went through one-on-one with the keeper who stood tall to make the stop.
Rovers flew out of the blocks in the second half and took the lead on 46 minutes – Butterworth fired in from close range following Mols’ knockdown.
Everton worked tirelessly as they strived to get back into the game and the impressive Gordon saw a swerving shot from 25 yards beaten away by Albinson.
Then, after an excellent team move involving Hornby and Nathan Broadhead, defender Lewis Gibson struck the bottom of the post.
The young Blues continued to pile on the pressure and they eventually got their reward. Gordon latched on to Bassala Sambou’s flick-on and finished expertly to make it 1-1.
There was no question of Everton settling for a point and they continued to probe as they searched for a winner.
It was not to be, but boss Unsworth was left to reflect on a resilient display as the young Blues ensured their progress to the next round.
The boss also reserved praise for goalscorer Gordon after an eye-catching all-round performance.
“He was the best player on the pitch by a country mile,” Unsworth said.
“That’s the type of performance and work-rate we have been looking for him to produce.
“He has all the ability in the world, but you can’t just have ability - you must have work-rate and desire to really effect the play.
“And tonight Anthony was top drawer.”