After dropping 5 of the last 6 points through a defeat to Liverpool and a draw at Spurs, Everton took advantage of a unique chance to regain top spot in Premier League 2 when they narrowly beat Derby County in the last game of 2018.
The Rams had nosed ahead at the top of the PL2 table, but came to Finch Farm on Sunday, only to lose that advantage when David Unsworth's youngsters signed off for their mid-winter break with an important 1-0 win.
Harry Charsley's 73rd-minute strike settled a fiercely-contested clash at USM Finch Farm. The result means Everton leapfrog the Rams, with the young Blues now two points clear of Craig Short's men.
Tyias Browning had the game's first half-chance on three minutes — his glancing header from Antony Evans's whipped corner delivery went just over the bar. Dennis Adeniran, whose relentless energy and dynamism in the tackle caught the eye throughout, was the next man to have a clear sight at goal.
The move started was started by skipper Morgan Feeney, who unleashed a fabulous 50-yard raking ball into the path of Ellis Simms. The striker controlled before laying the ball off to Adeniran — but the midfielder could not get over his volleyed effort and it cleared the crossbar.
As the clock ticked past the half-hour mark, the young Blues were looking the more likely side — and they fashioned the best chance of the opening period on 36 minutes. A brilliantly-inventive first-time through ball by Evans sent Simms scampering in on goal down the left channel. The 17-year-old checked inside and looked to score inside his near post, but the Derby stopper got down well to palm the shot away.
Derby came out of the blocks quickly in the second half and it needed a superb block by Con Ouzounidis to thwart an attempt on goal. Unsworth made a double substitution on the hour mark, with Josh Bowler and Bassala Sambou replacing Ouzounidis and Simms.
Bowler almost made an instant impact, skinning the Derby left-back before getting a shot away from a tight angle — the keeper making a fine one-handed stop, however.
The Blues would make a deserved breakthrough on 73 minutes, however. Browning — who had stayed in an advanced position following an Everton corner — controlled a lofted through ball from Ryan Astley before expertly pulling the ball back for Charsley, who rifled home from just inside the area.
Charsley almost had a second 7 minutes later when his swerving effort whistled past the post, before Derby exerted some pressure in the final minutes, coming close with two good chances.
The Blues held firm to secure a vital three points.Everton U23s: Hewelt; Adeniran, Astley, Broadhead, Browning, Charsley, Evans (87' Iversen), Feeney, Markelo, Ouzounidis (61' Bowler), Simms (61' Sambou).
Subs not Used: Hilton, Gordon.