David Unsworth says a 'fearful' first-half display cost Everton dearly as they were defeated 2-0 by Leicester City at the King Power Stadium.
Taking charge of his first Premier League contest since being handed the first-team reins on a temporary basis, Unsworth called on his players to “play of the front foot and have a right go” against the Foxes.
But it was the hosts who started the brighter and Claude Puel’s side hit the front on 18 minutes when Jamie Vardy applied the finish to a sweeping counter-attacking move.
Leicester doubled their lead on the half hour as Demarai Gray’s goal-bound cross was sliced into his own net by the unfortunate Jonjoe Kenny.
An improved second-half showing followed after Unsworth tinkered with his tactics at the interval, opting to deploy a midfield diamond by introducing Beni Baningime for his Premier League debut and Oumar Niasse up front.
“The second half was far better than the first half,” said Unsworth. “I wasn’t happy at all at half-time. That wasn’t the performance I expected in the first half - we were a little bit fearful, we sat back for some reason, having spoken about playing on the front foot.
“I was disappointed with the manner of the first goal. We’d spoken about and gone through the counter-attack from a set-piece, because they’re very strong and have scored goals over a period of time from those situations.
“Obviously, we’ve made a mistake for the second goal and that happens. I also have to say Jonjoe picked himself up and showed great character from that.
“At half-time, I wanted to get some dominance in midfield - get an extra man in midfield, get another striker on and get a foothold in the game. So we went to a diamond and two strikers. It seemed to work for us and we certainly played on the front foot a lot better than we did in the first half. But in the Premier League, you can’t give anyone a two-goal head-start because you’ll always be searching and struggling.
“I can’t fault the players in the second half and I said that to them after the game. I thought their effort and commitment was there for all to see without really creating the opportunities to get us back into the game.”
When quizzed about a first-half incident that saw Everton’s appeal for a penalty waved away by referee Andre Marriner after Christian Fuchs clumsily challenged Aaron Lennon inside the area, Unsworth added: “I’m told it was a penalty. I couldn’t really see because it was down the far side and there were bodies in front of me. I always look for the reaction of the players and the reaction was that it was nailed on.
“It would have got us back into the game and it would have been a very different team talk if it was 2-1 at half-time. Unfortunately, that’s the bit of luck that isn’t going for us at the moment.”
Next up for Unsworth and his men is a trip to France to play Lyon in the Europa League on Thursday, before welcoming Watford to Goodison Park in the Premier League three days later.
“We need a couple of wins to just settle everybody back down and to give the players that touch of confidence that obviously isn’t there at the moment,” added Unsworth. “That’s my job for however long I sit here - to instil a bit of confidence and to try and get a win.
“Sunday’s game now against Watford is a massive game. I’m sure the Goodison faithful will get behind us because we need three points and we need three points quickly.”