David Unsworth said his Everton Under-23s team were unfortunate to see “one of our best displays of the season” go unrewarded after a late Chelsea penalty snatched a 1-0 win for the Premier League 2 leaders at Aldershot FC.
Chelsea came into the match unbeaten in the league so far this term but were pushed to the limit by Unsworth’s talented side.
The game’s decisive moment came eight minutes from time when Beni Baningime was adjudged to have fouled England international Ruben Loftus-Cheek in the Chelsea penalty area.
Luke McCormick smashed in the resulting spot-kick and the home side saw out the victory.
“It was an outstanding performance away from home,” Unsworth told evertonfc.com.
“We had opportunities, but we had to sit in for large spells of the game and our shape was excellent.
“The players put a great shift in.
“But I expect that from this team. I’ve always said that you can never question the desire or the attitude of this team.
“In my opinion, it wasn’t a penalty and we couldn’t legislate for that.
“It was one of our best displays of the season and it should put us in good stead for what we’ve got left.
"The players executed our gameplan to the letter.”
The late penalty was a cruel blow after the Toffees had been resolute against the table-topping west London outfit.
Everton had been well-organised, disciplined and determined in defence, particularly in the second 45 minutes when Chelsea applied a lot of pressure.
Both sides played some decent possession football in the first period but neither goalkeeper was seriously tested.
For Everton, a cross-shot from Ryan Astley fizzed across the Chelsea goalmouth and an effort from distance by Baningime cleared the target.
At the other end Chelsea skipper Ian Maatsen had a clear sight of goal in the 40th minute but he pulled his shot well wide.
The hosts started the second half very much in the ascendency, but Everton defended well.
Jonathan Russell appeared for all the world to have given Chelsea the lead at the far post but Jarrad Branthwaite made a fabulous last-ditch goalline clearance.
Then, shortly after, Harry Tyrer dived to his right to parry away a fierce drive from Dynel Simeu.
Tyrer was also well-positioned to catch both a well-struck free-kick from Tariq Uwakwe on 67 minutes and a curling shot from Lewis Bate one minute later.
When Chelsea made the breakthrough from the penalty spot seven minutes from time, the Toffees rallied and Matthew Foulds saw a free-kick saved by Jamie Cumming in the Chelsea goal.
The home team held on, though, to move three points clear at the top of the table. Everton remain in seventh position. Next up for Unsworth’s side is a Premier League Cup last-16 clash with Reading at Southport FC on Sunday (2pm).