Keith Southern praised the character of his players after Everton bowed out of the Liverpool Senior Cup on Tuesday night.
The Blues lost 3-2 in the quarter-finals against Northern Premier League Division One side Widnes but very nearly fought their way back from three goals down, a Rhys Hughes penalty and Kameron Stanley's smart finish drawing Everton within one goal of completing a second-half recovery.
“I was really pleased, our lads deserve a lot of credit for the way they kept going,” said Academy coach Southern.
“We nearly got back in it and they panicked a bit in the last ten minutes when we got our second goal. Overall it was a decent performance.
“We always want to play in the right way and we did that. And let’s not forget we had some 16-year-old boys out there playing against men. We played some really good stuff and if I am being honest, we were probably let down by moments in both boxes.
“The attitude and application was first class but we are disappointed with the result because we never want to lose matches at this club. We expect to win games and on a different night it could have been a different outcome.”
The home side started well and had Everton on the backfoot, forcing a plethora of early corners, but the Blues found their feet and began moving the ball purposefully across the artificial surface at Halton Stadium.
Rafa Garcia hit the post for Everton after 14 minutes and Tom Warren was unfortunate to see his rebound effort flash wide of the target.
At the other end, Jack Barrett saved well to deny Ben Hodkinson and then George Lomax wasn’t too far wide with a blast from distance. The Widnes striker wasn’t to be denied, though, and his snapshot on the turn after 31 minutes put the hosts in front.
Lomax scored the second goal, too, a scorching drive from the corner of the penalty area that rocketed past Barrett and into the top corner five minutes into the second half.
The third goal came in the 55th minute from Harry Brazel who made the most of a fortunate ricochet to slide home a neat finish.
Everton looked down and out but showed great character and determination to force their way back into the contest.
They won a penalty just after the hour mark when Garcia was bundled over and Hughes stepped forward to plant his kick past Richard Mottram.
The goal gave the Blues a new lease of life and shortly after Stanley’s excellent glancing header struck the foot of the Widnes post.
Everton scored again with six minutes remaining when Stanley ran onto to a beautifully weighted forward pass from Hughes to round the keeper and thump the ball into the net.
Sixty seconds later Hughes curled a direct free-kick from 25 yards inches past the upright as Everton,captained by Michael Collins [pictured], a scorer in last week's FA Youth Cup victory over Brighton & Hove Albion, pressed for an unlikely leveller.
It wasn’t to be but a young Everton team can take heart from a spirited display against a far more experienced side.
“Given the make-up of the squad we had tonight, a mixture of Under-16s and first and second-year scholars, some players who are coming back from injury and haven’t had much football, I was pleased with the quality of some of our play,” added Southern.
“They showed a bravery to play and move the ball well, which isn’t easy against a team of experienced men.”