Everton Under-23s began their Premier League Cup campaign with a defeat against Sheffield United at Southport.
Despite taking an early lead, Everton went down 3-1 in the opening group match of a competition that they are technically defending after winning it in 2019 after the 2020 Premier League Cup was curtailed and last season’s didn’t get started.
David Unsworth's side started well and drew first blood in the ninth minute when Rhys Hughes delivered a corner from the right and Lewis Dobbin reacted quickly to flick the ball into the net at the near post for his first competitive goal for the Under-23s.
Far from demoralising the young Blades, the early strike spurred them into action and for the next twenty minutes or so they were the better team.
On 14 minutes, Will Lankshear won a towering header on the right of the Everton penalty area and Louie Marsh swooped to equalise.
The Toffees struggled to recover and United made their momentum count when they took the lead on 25 minutes.
Joe Starbuck volleyed a superb cross into the box and Lankshear planted a diving header past Zan Luk Leban.
That was the wake-up call that Everton needed and their response was impressive.
The lively Dobbin squandered a good chance when he only had the keeper to beat and then he released Mackenzie Hunt down the left with a sweet turn and well-weighted pass.
Hunt skipped past a challenge but then rifled a low cross across an empty six-yard box and the opportunity was lost.
The third United goal came virtually from the second-half kick-off. An excellent passing move down the right was crowned by a low finish from Lankshear.
Everton were then indebted to Leban when he saved smartly to deny Zak Brunt from close range.
Just after the hour mark, Joe Anderson made a goal-line clearance and from the counter-attack, Mackenzie Hunt played in Dobbin who pulled his effort narrowly wide of the target.
Shortly after, Hunt forced Dewhurst into a low save with a well-struck shot but in truth, this was a lead that Sheffield United never looked likely to relinquish.
Indeed, Marsh was left with his head in his hands after he somehow managed to miss the target from no more than four yards as the Yorkshire side looked for a fourth goal.
“It was a disappointing performance," Unsworth told evertonfc.com. "It was an opportunity tonight for the boys who haven’t been playing and they under-performed. Sheffield United were better than us.
"It shows why they haven’t been in the team. It makes my life very easy moving forward to the league games to pick a team. We’re relying heavily on Under-18 players as it is and if we’re not at full strength, we are below par.
"I don’t there were any positives to take from the game tonight, other than maybe it was minutes in the legs of the boys who haven’t been playing.
"It’s been a tough week but that’s no excuse because we freshened the team up after a magnificent performance and result the other night. We take on as many games and competitions as we can to try and give the boys the opportunities."
Next up for the Under-23s is a trip to Leicester City in the Premier League 2 on Monday 20 September (7pm kick-off BST).