Everton Under-18s coach Paul Tait says he is “proud” of his players, despite the young Blues being narrowly beaten by Chelsea in the semi-finals of the Premier League Cup at USM Finch Farm.
The young Blues went into the game on the back of a hard-fought league victory over Liverpool - and had reached the last four of this competition after dispatching Fulham in the quarter-finals.
However, a single goal from Marc Guehi 10 minutes before the break saw Everton hopes ended by the runaway leaders of the Under-18 Premier League southern section.
Tait’s side had their work cut out for much of the opening 45 minutes, with the visitors dominating possession from the off.
And after Martell Taylor-Crossdale had fired wide and Tariq Uwakwe stung the palms of Nico Hansen in the Blues' goal, Chelsea bagged what would prove to be their winner.
Connor Gallagher’s corner found the head of Guehi, and though Hansen kept out the centre-back's initial header, the same player reacted quickest to turn the ball home at the second attempt.
Despite the introduction of top goalscorer Anthony Gordon and Einar Iversen at the break, the second-half started in a similar fashion to the first.
Twice Chelsea went close to doubling their lead, but on both occasions Taylor-Crossdale fired wide.
And Jodi Morris’ side continued to carve out openings, with Tariq Lamptey blazing over and both Billy Gilmour and George McEachran aiming straight at Hansen.
To their credit, the young Blues weathered the Londoners' storm and rallied in the final 15 minutes, twice going close to sending the tie to penalties.
First Manasse Mampala and Nathan Moore exchanged passes before the former crossed for Ellis Simms, whose header rattled off the crossbar.
And with time ticking, Tait’s side went close again. Tom Scully pulled the ball back to Korede Adedoyin on the edge of the Chelsea box - but the substitute’s side-footed effort went just wide of Karlo Ziger’s far post.
“We’re bitterly disappointed because it’s never nice to lose a semi-final, but I’m really proud of our lads,” Tait told evertonfc.com.
“We lacked a bit of belief in the first half in terms of putting them under pressure, getting hold of the football and playing football like we have been doing.
“Second half we were much more like ourselves, and with a little bit more luck and bit more quality in the final third we could have got back in the game.”
Despite the disappointing set-back, Tait has now challenged his side to dust themselves down ahead of next weekend’s top of the table clash against Manchester United.
He said: “We need to learn from today, reflect and review on Monday. It’s a nice and tasty league clash for us next week and we need to make sure we bounce back.”
Everton: Hansen, Moore, Anderson, Ouzounidis, Richards (Iversen), Astley, Mampala, Scully, Simms, Duke-McKenna (Adedoyin), Warren (Gordon).
Substitutes not used: Murphy, Mckeown.
Chelsea: Ziger, Lamptey, Lavinier, Guehi, Mola, Gallagher, Uwakwe, Gilmour, Taylor-Crossdale (Lewis), McEachran, Anjorin (Brown).
Substitutes not used: Russell, Tie, Masampu.