Everton Under-18s boss Paul Tait saluted his courageous team's “tremendous commitment to the Club” after they were edged out 2-1 at West Bromwich Albion in a breathless FA Youth Cup quarter-final at The Hawthorns.
Everton reached the last eight with exceptional away wins over tournament favourites Manchester City and Chelsea, who between them had won the cup in eight of the past nine seasons.
In a high-octane and tightly-contested battle at West Brom, the Blues hit the front when Stanley Mills struck on 62 minutes.
The Baggies instantly levelled through Rico Richards, however, and Zac Ashworth then arrowed in the winner.
Tait believes West Brom’s greater experience was an important factor but was eager to pay tribute to his team’s work-rate and attitude.
“The lads gave everything,” Tait told evertonfc.com. “They ran, they chased and showed tremendous commitment for the Club, as they have throughout this cup run.
“West Brom had a lot of second-year scholars playing and, with us still being a younger team, I thought that told in different areas of the pitch. They did have a lot of power.
“But I’m so proud of the players for the run they’ve been on. They’re still learning and a lot of them can play in this cup next season.
“The lessons they’ve learned in this cup run can be invaluable for the rest of their careers.
“And everyone’s got to know the players on this cup run. A lot of Evertonians will have watched them and I’m sure they will be keeping an eye on them in the future.”
Everton looked well-placed for a spot in the semi-finals when Mills clinically rifled the Blues ahead just after the hour-mark.
West Brom were level within two minutes, however, and – having exerted consistent pressure following the equaliser – hit the winning goal on 71 minutes.
Tait added: “I thought we panicked a little bit when we scored, and we gave them a goal back too early. That’s something we can look back on.
“We got in front and, if you’re a professional player who has been in the game for a long time, you know you have to get in a solid shape for the next 10 minutes and don’t give any goals away."
Everton pressed for a second goal in the game’s final stages and had strong shouts for a penalty when substitute Rafael Garcia appeared to have been felled in the area.
Thierry Small then fired a daisy-cutter fractions wide in stoppage time.
“We had that chance with Thierry, which flashed across the post, and we could’ve had a penalty,” said Tait
“We just ran out of a little bit of luck, which you need in cup ties.”