Ladies Head Coach Andy Spence could not fault the effort of his players as their Continental Cup run came to an end at the hands of Reading.
Having qualified from a tough regional group including this year’s FA Cup finalists Manchester City and Birmingham City, the Blue Girls faced an in-form Royals at the Select Security Stadium in freezing conditions on Saturday.
After an opening 90 minutes played at a frantic pace ended 0-0, Reading looked to have snatched it when Kirsty Linnett smashed in the opener from 25 yards.
But Chloe Kelly tapped home to take the tie to penalties. And after both Kelly and captain Dan Turner saw spot-kicks saved by Royals keeper Grace Moloney, it was left to Linnett to deliver the decisive blow in the shootout.
“It’s a cliché but it is never nice to go out on penalties,” reflected Spence. “Sometimes you see it when teams are a bit fortunate to get to penalties but we have put in an unbelievable performance – in many respects one of the best of the season. It was littered with some excellent individual displays as well.
“So that tells you how well we have done. Reading are a good side and have been on a brilliant run. But we have been on a solid one ourselves and we have run a team that has a really good chance of winning this competition very close.
“That tells me everything about his young team and where we are going. We have a lot of quality and we saw plenty of character after going a goal down and finding the energy to come back into it.
“So while it is disappointing, that is only with the end result. The performance makes me really proud of the girls and it is a good sign that I am saying that most weeks.”
The fact that the Toffees more than matched their more established opponents and went toe-to-toe with them across 120 minutes shows the progress Spence’s side have been making since they turned professional in the summer.
With Everton back in action at Bristol City on 6 January after a short break, the Blue Girls Head Coach insists reaching a cup quarter final is another sign of the evolution of his side.
“I turned around to the staff at one stage and asked whether this game was on fast forward! It was such a high tempo contest but again that speaks volumes about the girls. They are transitioning from a WSL 2 team and training two or three times a week to a full-time Club.
“To see us outrun, outwork and outplay a side like Reading at times is a big complement to the players, but also to the staff that have got them into that condition.
“We are disappointed in the result but certainly not with the direction we are going in.”