Everton Ladies boss Andy Spence said his players showed “just how good they can be” in their SSE Women’s FA Cup semi-final showdown with Arsenal Women on Sunday.
He admitted the Blue Girls' 2-1 defeat “felt cruel” after a last-gasp Louise Quinn header snatched victory for the Gunners but took huge encouragement from his team’s performance.
Danielle Carter put the visitors in front at the Marine Travel Arena, slotting home Heather O’Reilly’s cross on 25 minutes. A resurgent Everton hit back on 67 minutes though, Chloe Kelly firing home from the spot after Olivia Chance had been upended in the box.
Buoyed by the equaliser, the Blue Girls searched for a winner but it was the Gunners who were to strike the decisive blow – Quinn nodding home at the death.
Everton boss Spence admitted his players didn’t get out of the blocks in the first half but was proud his side’s efforts after the break.
“We were a little bit off our game,” he said. “I think the occasion got to us a little. But that can happen with a young team – my team’s average age is 21.
“At half-time we regrouped. It was a case of clearing a few heads and telling the girls to trust themselves and show just how good we can be. And we did that. We knew we had the quality and work rate to really push Arsenal and we showed what a promising team we are.
“We run them close and I felt we probably should have scored a second goal once we got the first.
“It’s just a killer blow in terms of that late winner for Arsenal – I was very disappointed, but not with the girls’ contributions.
“Football’s cruel at times, it’s great at times. It feels cruel today.”
While Spence couldn’t hide his disappointment after losing in such heartbreaking fashion, he is more convinced than ever an exciting future lies ahead for Everton Ladies.
“It’s such a young team and I feel we’re getting better each week, each game,” he said. “The Arsenal manager [Joe Montemurro] said their games against us were the toughest they’ve had all season, so that means a lot to us.
“Of course, we’re disappointed but we can be really optimistic about the future, too. We’ve got a really exciting young team.”
One of the Club’s most promising youngsters is 19-year-old Kelly, who stepped up to score the equalising penalty against Arsenal.
For Spence, the character she displayed to rifle home from the spot and bring the Blue Girls level sums up his side’s mentality.
He is confident his players will display this resolve in their WSL1 clash against league-leaders Chelsea, again at Marine, on Wednesday night (kick-off 7pm).
“For Chloe to do that in front of a big crowd tells you everything about the character of the team,” he said. “That’s the type of players we’ve got.
“Chelsea is another big game. It’ll be interesting to see how the team now reacts and there will be some tired legs and tired minds. But they’re great girls.
“We’ve got a schedule now of eight games in the best part of three weeks, but that’s why we’ve got a squad. I wish there was a ninth game – the FA Cup final. It wasn’t to be this year but we’ll be there in the future, I’m sure.”