David Unsworth declared the 0-0 draw with Arsenal at Southport as a ‘fair result’ as Everton Under-23s maintained their four-point lead at the top of Premier League 2 with three games remaining.
There was no shortage of endeavour from either side but goalscoring chances were at a premium. Despite not hitting the back of the net, though, the young Blues preserved the gap over second-placed Brighton & Hove Albion after the south coast side were pegged back in a 2-2 draw at Blackburn Rovers.
“It’s a great clean sheet because Arsenal are a really good team,” said Everton Under-23s boss Unsworth. “We grew into the game and got stronger in the last 15-20 minutes after not really turning up in the first half, if I’m being honest.
“It was tough for both teams to string two or three passes together in the conditions so all in all, it’s another game and we are where we are.
“That’s part of their learning at this level. If you can’t win the game, don’t lose it and that’s really important. I can’t praise the boys enough because their attitude and application were fantastic.”
The first half was a scrappy affair with neither goalkeeper called into serious action.
Morgan Feeney headed wide on two occasions – once from a corner and once from a free-kick – but by and large the defences were very much on top.
By far the best chance of the opening period came in the 45th minute when the ball landed at the feet of Josh Bowler who fired high over the bar from eight yards.
The young Blues had a half-chance after an hour when Bassala Sambou closed down Arsenal keeper Deyan Iliev and blocked his clearance into the path of Fraser Hornby who volleyed wide.
The first save of the game came with just 10 minutes to go when Iliev dived to his left to push away a well struck free-kick from central defender Lewis Gibson.
“He’s got that is his locker, he’s got a lovely left foot,” said Unsworth. “I am a bit frustrated but you can’t fault the lads’ desire and effort. We’ll regroup and we’ll go again.”
Everton Under-23s are back in action on Saturday when they host Sunderland in the last 16 of the Premier League Cup at Southport, 2pm kick-off.
They return to league action on Sunday 7 April with a trip to Manchester City, 1pm.