David Unsworth admitted that Antony Evans’ red card “cost us the game” after his side were beaten on penalties by Bradford City in the Checkatrade Trophy.
Bassala Sambou had seemingly won it late on for Everton only for Evans to pick up a second booking, and Bantams striker George Miller to level in added time.
“It was a terrific performance and I can’t fault the lads – we have battered them,” said a frustrated Unsworth. “We have not hit the heights of what how we can play but we have torn them apart.
“We get a great goal and we should just see the game out. But a rush of blood has cost us. With 11 men we win the game, it is as simple as that.
“We have drawn the game with a good performance, especially after playing on Sunday as well. So it is not a case of bouncing back because we played well.
“I can’t fault the lads. But the sending off cost us.”
Having beaten Tottenham Hotspur 6-0 last time out, the young Blues were presented with a very different challenge at the Northern Commercials Stadium at Valley Parade.
City head coach David Hopkin made three changes to the side that faced Doncaster Rovers in League One on Saturday, meaning this would be a strong Bantams outfit that would oppose them in Yorkshire.
And the hosts were not shy to remind the visiting Toffees of the difference between men’s and Under-23s football with some hearty challenges early on.
Both Everton’s Joao Virginia and Bantams glovesman Richard O’Donnell were rarely called into action for much of the game, but it livened up in the second half.
The former did well to tip a venomous strike from City winger Jordan Gibson wide, while O’Donnell was alert to keep out Josh Bowler’s effort after the Blues caught the hosts napping at a corner.
But with 12 minutes to go, Everton struck the only goal of the night. Substitute Sambou was picked out just inside the box and his vicious rising drive beat O’Donnell.
Evans’ late dismissal meant Unsworth’s charges were down to 10 men for the closing stages, and in added time their spirited rearguard action was broken as Miller lashed home from close range.
That meant penalties to decide the victor, and when Manasse Mampala saw his spot-kick come back off the crossbar, it was left to City substitute Eliot Goldthorp to win it for his side.
A solid start to the young Blues’ Checkatrade Trophy campaign nevertheless, with a touch of European football up next as Benfica head to Southport on Friday.