David Unsworth said there were “massive plus points” to take from Everton Under-23s’ performance despite their defeat to Bayern Munich at Goodison Park.
The young Blues dominated for large spells and created a host of opportunities, but a combination of inspired goalkeeping and clinical finishing saw the Germans run out 4-1 winners in the Premier League International Cup clash.
The result leaves the Toffees second in Group D and relying on other results in order to qualify for the quarter-finals.
An unfortunate Tyias Browning own goal gave the visitors the lead midway through the first half. Everton put Bayern under extreme pressure as they searched for a leveller and Nathan Broadhead eventually got the goal their efforts deserved 11 minutes from time.
Bayern regained their lead almost instantly, though, as substitute Marvin Cuni lashed home from 20 yards. Jeong Woo-yeung and Kwasi Wreidt then added the gloss on the scoreline as the Blues committed men forward late in the piece.
“For the first hour or so, that’s probably the best we’ve played this season,” Everton Under-23s boss Unsworth said. “We knocked the ball around really well, we created a load of opportunities and their ‘keeper’s made several great saves – I lost count of how many he made.
“We got done at the end. They got two late goals when we were chasing it a little bit.
“But there were some massive plus points tonight. We had a couple of young players in the team – the likes of Ellis Simms and Kyle John - and on the whole I thought we were terrific. The scoreline doesn’t reflect the game.
“It’s not often I will praise a team of mine after getting beat 4-1 but the lads gave everything and they played some really good stuff.”
Bayern got out of the blocks quickly at Goodison, their quality evident as they circulated the ball with composure and precision.
The Germans failed to carve out any clear chances, though, and Everton soon grabbed a foothold on proceedings.
Indeed, it was the Toffees who were to have the first meaningful attempt on goal when Broadhead scampered forward before firing into the side-netting on 15 minutes.
The Blues started to up the ante and Simms – promoted to Unsworth’s side after his incredible goalscoring exploits for the Under-18s – forced a fine save from Ron-Thorben Hoffmann on 22 minutes. Morgan Feeney rapped a pass into the feet of the powerhouse striker, who showcased impressive strength and deftness of touch to turn centre-back Jonathan Meier. He lashed his shot hard and low but Hoffmann’s outstretched boot came to the Germans’ rescue.
Against the run of play, it was Bayern who would take the lead – and in the most unfortunate of circumstances for Everton.
Maximilian Franzke found space in the penalty box but, before he could shoot, Harry Charsley hared back to make a strong challenge. Remarkably, though, the ball ricocheted of Browning and flew into the top corner of Joao Virginia’s net.
The Blues refused to let their heads drop, with Josh Bowler and Antony Evans both going close with rasping drives from just inside the area.
Everton were dominant at this point but were almost hit on the counter five minutes before half-time. Franzke expertly fashioned a shooting opportunity but Virginia came flying off his line to narrow the angle and make a terrific save.
Back came Everton and Simms went close to levelling the scores in first-half injury time. After a wonderful team move, the striker attempted to place his effort past Hoffmann but the ‘keeper made a brilliant one-handed stop to keep his side ahead.
The young Blues continued to pile on the pressure after the break.
On 47 minutes, Simms held the ball up superbly on the edge of the box and slipped in Broadhead, but his effort was too close to the Bayern stopper.
Then, after a pinpoint reverse pass from Evans, Bowler forced another fingertip stop from the formidable Hoffmann.
The Toffees kept knocking on the door and they finally bulldozed their way through on 79 minutes. Evans’ driven free-kick was parried by Hoffmann and Broadhead was there to tap in.
Within a minute, though, Bayern regained the lead – substitute Cuni arrowing home from 20 yards.
And as the Blues poured forward, Bayern broke clear and got their third. Cuni beat the offside trap before squaring for Jeong Woo-yeong, who put the game beyond doubt.
Wreidt then snatched a fourth late on, slotting in from close range after Virginia made a stunning stop from Cuni.
While boss Unsworth admitted his frustration Everton could not convert their enterprising play into a positive result, he highlighted a number of encouraging signs to take from their display.
Among these was the performance of 17-year-old striker Simms, whose power, pace and link-up play impressed in his first start for the Under-23s.
“Ellis has been training with us for three or four weeks now and we felt he was ready for a start,” he said. “I thought he linked up really well with Antony [Evans].
“He got a few shots away and he was unlucky not to score a couple of goals in the first half. He’ll get better, he is working closely with Franny Jeffers and he’ll continue to improve with his movement and team play.
“A lot of the things we worked on in training came off tonight. We wanted to get Antony in that number 10 role, and get Josh Bowler and Nathan Broadhead coming in from the flanks - and that worked well.
“Kyle John played 90 minutes on his return from injury, too, and Einar Iversen came on to get some more experience at this level.
“There are a lot of positives to take.”