Alan Stubbs says he was proud of Everton Under-21s’ courageous performance against Tottenham Hotspur, despite seeing their season come to an end with a 3-2 play-off semi-final defeat.
The Blues twice dragged themselves back level through goals from Conor McAleny and Chris Long but ultimately left White Hart Lane empty-handed after Jonathan Obika headed an 89th winner for the home side.
Stubbs felt Everton struggled to gain a foothold in the contest during the first half – but he remained convinced the outcome could have been different after a much improved second-half display from his youthful side.
“It was a close game between two very good teams and from my point of view there is a lot of pride and satisfaction,” Stubbs told evertonfc.com.
“It’s obviously disappointing to go out with a minute or so to go, but that’s football.
“I’m sure Tottenham will say that it was a really tough game for them, probably one of the toughest they have had this season. We will say the same because they were the best team that we have faced this season.
“Spurs passed the ball well in the first half and our boys got a little bit intimidated by that and didn’t impose themselves on the game the way they can do. It needed a bit of guidance at half-time to enforce what I know they can do.
“They came out in the second half and did that. We scored a couple of great goals and their keeper has made some great saves. At the end of the day, he was probably the difference and the reason Tottenham went on to win the game and we lost it.”
The defeat brought an end to the Under-21s’ 16-game unbeaten run, dating back to November.
After finishing fourth in National Group One during the first half of the season, the Blues added more consistency to their performances in the second phase of the campaign, coasting to a top-placed finish in their section and comfortably qualifying for the end of season play-offs.
Understandably, Stubbs has been left encouraged with the progress made since the turn of the year.
“The one thing I have tried to instil in the team is finding a way to win football matches,” added the former Toffees skipper.
“When players are young they make mistakes, they make wrong decisions and run where they shouldn’t. They are very naïve.
“The one thing that we have tried as coaches and staff is to make them make the right decisions at the right time in games; how to start and finish matches, when to take chances and what to do when they are ahead or behind.
“From my point of view it has been very pleasing as I have seen a lot of positives from that. We’ve seen that in results on the pitch when mentally they have been very strong and always given themselves a chance to get something out of a game, which is difficult to do.
“The one thing I can say is that everything I’ve asked for or questioned them on they have responded. That’s been fantastic and if they keep that belief and mind set going into a professional career they will do well.”