Paul Tait said his Everton Under-18s side will learn valuable lessons after they were edged out 4-3 at West Bromwich Albion in a breathless FA Youth Cup quarter-final on Tuesday night.
The young Blues got off to an excellent start at The Hawthorns, with goals from Bobby Carroll and Korede Adedoyin putting them 2-0 up inside 20 minutes.
The home side rallied and struck either side to half-time to level the scores, before Ellis Simms gave Everton the advantage again.
The Baggies were to have the final word, though, with late strikes from Morgan Rogers and Taylor Gardner-Hickman securing their place in the last four.
Boss Tait admitted his disappointment the young Blues could not convert their impressive opening to the match into a winning performance.
“It was a great opportunity for us and it will sting for a few days,” he conceded.
“There’s a lot of lessons to be learned. There’s the technical and the tactical side of things, as well as the mentality and defensive organisation.
“There’s a lot of development opportunities to take from tonight.
“In the second half, we weren’t quite good enough without the ball. And when you get to this stage of the competition, against good teams, you will pay the price.”
Carroll combined impressive tenacity with faultless technique for the young Blues’ seventh-minute opener. Pressing high up the pitch, the midfielder robbed Tom Solanke of possession before calmly guiding the ball into the top corner.
Everton went agonisingly close to extending their advantage five minutes later when Anthony Gordon’s vicious, swerving free-kick was brilliantly tipped onto the underside of the crossbar by Josh Griffiths.
The Toffees would have their second soon enough. Adedoyin collected the ball on the right flank before unleashing an effort at goal – his shot took a slight deflection off a West Brom defender, leaving Baggies stopper Griffiths helpless as the ball sailed into the net.
The game was being played at a relentless pace and, as West Brom pushed forward, Everton keeper Harry Tyrer was alert to keep out Rogers’ shot with an outstretched left boot.
The home side broke through on 36 minutes, however, Rayhaan Tulloch’s close-range shot finding its way through a host of bodies to nestle in the bottom corner.
The Baggies kept up the pressure and snatched an equaliser just after the break. After a lightning-quick raid down the wing by goalscorer Tulloch, he cut the ball back across the face of goal for Solanke, who had the simplest of tasks to tap home.
Everton soon hit the front again, though. Adedoyin’s 25-yard effort was parried by Griffiths and the predatory Simms was on the rebound in a flash to tuck the ball past the keeper.
The game was end-to-end at this juncture and after Everton defender Ryan Astley superbly cleared Jamie Soule’s overhead attempt off the line, Simms headed just wide from Adedoyin’s cross.
West Brom would make the decisive final push, however. Rogers finished an impressive team move to level the scores, before Gardner-Hickman curled in to make it 4-3 on 79 minutes.
A sending off for Mackenzie Hunt after a challenge on Tulloch made Everton’s task all the more difficult as they pressed to force the game into extra time.
The young Blues continued to commit men forward and defender Michael Collins saw an effort well blocked five minutes from time.
The Baggies held out, though, to book a semi-final meeting with Manchester City.