Paul Tait admitted his Everton Under-18 team paid the price for “switching off” late in the game after the young Blues went down to a 2-1 defeat at Stoke City.
Tait’s side rallied after conceding on 85 and 87 minutes. But despite centre-back Elliot Richards stabbing home in the dying stages to halve Everton’s deficit, the visitors could not extend their six-match unbeaten league run.
Everton sit fourth in the Under-18 Premier League but trail leaders Liverpool by just three points.
Tait was nevertheless left rueing his side’s lack of ruthlessness in Staffordshire, after both Stephen Duke McKenna [pictured] and Manasse Mampala struck the woodwork before Stoke broke the deadlock.
“Stoke were a physically strong team, we had to defend a lot of set pieces and it was a scrappy game,” coach Tait told evertonfc.com.
“We were disappointed we did not open them up and create enough chances. And when we did get those chances we did not take them. If we had scored first I think we would have gone on to win fairly comfortably.
“We spoke at half-time about being better with the ball and we started the second half brightly. We controlled the game more, hit the post twice and missed a couple of good chances.
“But then we switched off.”
Mampala thumped the woodwork on 62 minutes and 17 minutes later spurned a good opportunity from close range.
There were only five minutes left on the clock when Stoke’s Hungarian former Honved winger Krisztofer Szereto curled a free-kick into the net after Toffees’ keeper Matthew Johnson had been penalised for a foul on Jordan Greenidge.
Szereto’s fellow substitute, Jacob Twyford, swiftly doubled the hosts' lead when his shot deflected up and over Johnson.
Everton's 16-year-old winger Pawel Zuk teed up Richards to lay the platform for a grandstand finish but Everton could not complete an unlikely comeback.
Tait's team face West Bromwich Albion next Saturday, with the Baggies set to travel to Merseyside buoyed by a 5-2 triumph over Black Country rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers this weekend.
And despite the season’s second Under-18 Merseyside derby creeping into view – Everton host Liverpool on 10 February – Tait insists his youngsters cannot afford to look beyond their next challenge. His focus is understandable given the concertinaed nature of a league in which high-flying Manchester City were turned over 5-2 at home by second-bottom Newcastle United on Saturday.
“With young players it is very difficult at times,” said Tait. "You cannot give them the idea they can take their foot off the gas when they are not playing Manchester United or Manchester City, because then they will come up short.
“We go into every game delivering the same message, which is to implement everything we do during the week. We always keep the boys focused. Winning is the objective, but these players are still developing, so we talk a lot about the process required to get the win.
“Manchester City’s result was a real surprise – and good for us. There is not much between the teams at the top of this league at all.
“West Brom scored five at the weekend, so they will be confident coming to us and it will be a tough game. But we will be aiming to get straight back on track.
“We wanted to have a real go at getting back into the game at Stoke. We would rather lose 2-0 than not have a go at 1-0 down.
“We threw numbers forward but then conceded again. We left it the way it was, got back into it and almost scored another one.
“There was plenty of last-minute excitement, we were getting balls into their box and trying to get an equaliser. The game nearly went from 0-0 to 2-2 in the space of five minutes – but it was not to be.”