Everton Under-18s’ character shone through as they booked safe passage into the fourth round of the FA Youth Cup after a 4-1 win over Sunderland at Goodison Park.
Paul Tait’s charges needed every ounce of their resiliency though as the Black Cats were better value than the scoreline suggested.
But Tait was pleased with the manner in which his side dealt with the pressures of both a well contested cup tie and the opportunity to play at Goodison Park.
“We started the game very well,” he said. “We had spoken about how we wanted to start at a high tempo, press and win the ball higher up in their half. If we could do that we could control the game and we did that. We scored our goals at good times as well.
“In the second half we have had a little wobble and the momentum shifted. They scored their goal and it was a case of whether the lads would let the occasion of the Cup get to them or whether they would keep their heads.
“I knew what the answer would be because of their character and I thought they bounced back really well.
“If Sunderland had got an equaliser it would have been a really tough game. But we have gone on to get the third goal with an outstanding bit of quality from Anthony Gordon. From then on we have looked comfortable again.”
Sunderland were given an early warning about in-form Everton striker Ellis Simms – who netted twice in the young Blues’ 4-0 win over the Black Cats in late November - inside the first 10 minutes.
Found on the edge of the box by Bobby Carroll, the powerful frontman drove forward but saw an effort deflected wide.
They did not heed that warning, however. Pawel Zuk picked out Mackenzie Hunt and when he laid it off for Simms, the frontman powered the ball into the roof of the net.
The chances continued to fall Everton’s way, Korede Adedoyin and skipper Einar Iversen both saw half chances fly off target.
The Toffees’ pressure told just before the break. A corner picked out Adedoyin and he did the rest, steering a header into the back of the net.
The young Blues were relishing the chance to display their exciting brand of attacking football at the Grand Old Lady, with the move of the match coming seconds after the restart.
Gordon - no stranger to Goodison after his cameo for the first team against Gor Mahia – tricked his way into space and played the ball inside for Simms, his flick was perfect for Adedoyin but the winger’s effort flew high and wide.
But Sunderland had clearly been read the riot act at the interval, with a lift in tempo and intensity apparent early on in the second period, and that allowed them to swing the momentum back in their favour.
Unperturbed by the hosts’ lead, suddenly it was the visitors who were dominating possession and the Blues who were misplacing passes.
The Black Cats’ positive approach paid off on the hour mark as Ryan Gooch reduced the arrears, capitalising on lackadaisical Everton defending to fire past Harry Tryer.
But in Gordon, the Toffees boasted a player who could conjure something out of nothing, and he did precisely that on 75 minutes. Picked out wide on the left by Simms, Gordon bent a stunning strike that dipped into the far corner of the Sunderland net.
Suddenly the nervousness that had creeped into Everton’s game was gone. Iversen almost added a brilliant fourth of his own, lashing a half-volley that clipped the bar on its way over.
Simms, though, did wrap up the victory with a late fourth, breaking free to fire low into the net to secure Everton’s place in the next round.