Sam Allardyce identified the performance of Nikola Vlasic as a “positive” to draw from Everton's 2-0 New Year's Day defeat by Manchester United.
Manager Allardyce made seven changes to his team for the visit of 20-times English champions United, with the game concluding a run of nine Premier League matches in 34 days for the Blues.
Croat attacker Vlasic was handed his first top-flight start since the Goodison Park meeting with Arsenal back in October and responded by delivering a combative and purposeful display.
And although Allardyce was naturally frustrated to see his team go down to a second successive loss following Saturday's last-gasp defeat at Bournemouth, he spied reason for optimism in 20-year-old Vlasic’s industry and adventure.
“Nikola Vlasic was a positive,” Allardyce told evertontv. “If we can get him in the top third of the pitch with the ball at his feet, he can create a lot of tricks and movement and some good opportunities.
“But we have to get him up there, where he likes to be, and get him possession as often we can. I was pleased with him.
“I was pleased with our performance in the first half. We tried to take the game to Manchester United whenever we could but the disappointing thing was the start of the second half and allowing that first goal to go in.
“It was extremely risky [making seven changes] against Manchester United, that is for sure. But I had to do it.
“The lads who have been winning and drawing matches, you try to let them go as far as they can. But it was clear by the end of the Bournemouth game that a lot of those lads were fatigued and would not really recover sufficiently in 48 hours to get the energy and performance we needed against Manchester United.
“That is why we made the changes. In the main, apart from 15 or 20 minutes in the second half up to them scoring, we were always in the game.
“From that point of view, I was pleased with the lads’ application for most of the game but very disappointed in those two small moments United took full advantage of.”
Everton traded blows with United during an evenly-fought first-half but found themselves pinned back by Jose Mourinho’s men following the break.
Spanish attacker Juan Mata fired against the post from distance before Anthony Martial capped a swift visiting counter with a shot into the top-right corner of goal.
The Toffees – energised by the 62nd-minute introduction of midfielder James McCarthy – summoned a feisty response, but the best of a sustained period of pressure on the away team's goal saw Oumar Niasse head narrowly wide from a Mason Holgate delivery.
Jesse Lingard effectively killed the contest when he rifled home from 20 yards with nine minutes to play.
Asked if he was surprised by Everton’s start to the second half, Allardyce – who was undefeated in his opening seven games as boss – said: “Yes, totally, and when you see that as a manager, you have to do something about it by getting a sub on.
“Maybe, from my point of view, I should have done it a bit quicker, who knows?
“In all fairness, Manchester United had control of the second half, there was no doubt about that. We were trying to get a substitute on to avert what they looked like they were going to do.
“But they did score before we got James and Aaron Lennon on.
“But then James showed us all what we should have been doing, by going and shutting Manchester United down.
“A couple of really good tackles got the Everton fans on their feet, got them cheering us again and got us going forward.
“And then we were starting to create a few problems for Manchester United. It took us a huge amount of time to do that in the second half.
“The best team won, there was no doubt about that. But it is about staying in the game right to the very end and not giving the game back to the opposition, which we did with the second goal.”
Allardyce did not try to conceal his frustration at the nature of the goals his side conceded against United – but admitted he was being “super critical” after Everton had set a high-water mark for their performances following the manager’s arrival in late November.
He also revealed he would introduce more fresh legs into the team for Friday night’s FA Cup third round tie at Liverpool.
“It is about the availability of the players again,” said Allardyce. “It will be our fifth game in 14 days. You will see a lot of changes again – perhaps not seven, but you will see some... maybe three or four.
“We need to play against Liverpool with our legs and minds as fresh as possible, because we will need a big effort to try to get through to the next round.
“We have to tell the lads – the game is about doing the right things at the right time. The simple things are the most important things. That is us keeping throw-ins, keeping our possession and doing the right job at the right time.
“It is being a bit super critical, because what they have done prior to the past two games has been outstanding. We have not had much time to continue to work on where we have got to – but I have to point out to the players where we went wrong.
“Hopefully, they can accept the constructive criticism and learn from it.
"When we can get on the training ground more, I am sure we can improve and keep improving and, hopefully, turn these bad results into good ones.”