Everton were knocked out of the Checkatrade Trophy on Tuesday night following a 1-0 defeat at Mansfield Town.
A solitary second-half goal from defender Zander Diamond settled the issue but the young Blues can have few complaints about the outcome.
Mansfield, who made 11 changes from the side that drew with Exeter City in League Two at the weekend, enjoyed the better of the early exchanges as Everton struggled to get into their stride.
However, it was the young visitors who crafted the best opening of the half when Nathan Broadhead ran at the home defence and slid a lovely pass into the path of Antony Evans who was denied by a smart block by the keeper, Bobby Olejnik.
For The Stags, Lee Angol fired a half-volley over the bar from the edge of the box and a direct free-kick from Omari Sterling-James was blocked by the Everton wall.
Francis Jeffers suffered the loss of Josh Bowler midway through the half after he failed to recover from a poor challenge in the fourth minute that saw Mansfield’s Calum Butcher yellow-carded. After trying to run the injury off, Bowler was eventually replaced by Fraser Hornby.
Louis Gray was well-positioned to safely stop a snapshot from Sterling-James in the closing minutes of the opening period that was, by and large, a scrappy and uninspiring affair.
Mansfield opened the second-half with a flurry of efforts on goal. Alfie Potter and Butcher were well off target from distance and Sterling-James just missed the far-post with a low, angled shot.
Then, following a home breakaway, Angol was presented with an opening but was denied by a splendid, full-blooded challenge by Con Ouzounidis.
Butcher thought he’d given the hosts the lead in the 61st minute but his well-placed header was superbly turned away by Gray.
Mansfield were getting closer though and a thunderous far-post volley by Jimmy Spencer was bravely charged down by Matthew Foulds. From the corner, Paul Digby headed over and Everton survived again.
Shortly after, Gray saved well again, this time from Potter, before Everton mustered up their first attempt on goal of the second period as Luke Garbutt fired in a 25-yard free-kick that sailed over the bar.
But it was still the more experienced side that looked the more likely to break through and Everton were grateful to Harry Charsley when he hacked the ball to safety after Sterling-James had squeezed it past Gray.
The Everton keeper made another great save to deny Butcher when he blocked with his leg but from the resulting corner, Zander Diaond dealt the decisive blow with a powerful header.
In fairness, it was nothing less than Steve Evans’ side deserved and there was no way back for the Blues.
Next up for the Under-23s is the Merseyside mini derby against Liverpool in the Premier League 2 on Sunday 19 November.