David Unsworth admitted Everton Under-23s' Merseyside derby defeat "will hurt all week" after the young Blues were edged out 1-0 by Liverpool on Sunday.
The Toffees came into the game top of the Premier League 2 table but Rafael Camacho’s 12th-minute strike proved the difference at Goodison Park
Unsworth’s side could not be faulted for effort as they searched for an equaliser – with Bassala Sambou and Kieran Dowell both going close in the second half – but the young Blues could not hit the heights they have consistently scaled this season.
“The result hurts and it will hurt all week,” Unsworth told evertonfc.com. “It was a disappointing performance all round.
“In the first-half we didn’t get hold of the ball and we weren’t doing the basics right.
“Our players just weren’t at their best today, which is very disappointing because it was such a big game.
“We’ve got another game on Friday [against Sheffield United] and we’ll get back together and try to win that match. I hope we get a response.”
Liverpool started the brightest at Goodison and they came within inches grabbing the game’s opening goal on 10 minutes.
During a frantic passage of play, Nat Phillips headed against the bar from a corner delivery before Wales international Ben Woodburn struck the same part of the upright from the rebound.
The Reds would make the breakthrough soon enough, however. Adam Lewis struck a firm effort at goal from 25 yards – Joao Virginia looked to have it covered but the ball took a wicked deflection off Camacho, leaving the Portuguese ‘keeper with no chance.
The Toffees almost produced an instant response - Josh Bowler burst clear down the right but his low, driven cross agonisingly evaded Nathan Broadhead, who was sliding in at the back post.
Everton probed but struggled to create any more clear-cut chances before the interval, and boss Unsworth brought on Sambou and then Shayne Lavery in a bid to change the course of the game.
And the Toffees almost created an opening on the hour mark when Harry Charsley’s fizzing cross just bypassed the young Blues’ new front pair.
Everton began to apply some concerted pressure and two minutes later, Sambou was put through on goal by Dowell. The former Coventry City man couldn’t get enough purchase on his strike, however, and Liverpool ‘keeper Caoimhin Kelleher made a comfortable stop.
Dowell was next to threaten. The Academy graduate thrashed an effort goalwards after good work from Antony Evans, but Reds centre-back George Johnston made a fine block.
Liverpool continued to look dangerous themselves, though, and Camacho’s dipping shot from distance whistled fractions wide of Virginia’s post.
Back came Everton and Lavery embarked on a barrelling run forward before pulling the trigger. A deflection took this sting out of his shot, though, and Kelleher made the save as the Reds saw out the victory.
Everton remain at the summit of the Premier League 2 table, one point ahead of Derby County, who take on Arsenal tomorrow night.
Next up for the young Blues is a Premier League Cup clash at Sheffield United on Friday afternoon.