Everton Under-23s manager David Unsworth felt Crystal Palace’s greater experience and physicality was the key factor in the young Blues’ 3-1 Premier League 2 defeat at Selhurst Park on Friday night.
Toffees forward Charlie Whitaker scored a fine free-kick 12 minutes from time but Unsworth’s side had left themselves with too much to do by that stage.
After Jesurun Rak-Sakyi’s effort put the home side ahead on the half-hour mark, Rhys Hughes had the chance to level from the penalty spot after livewire striker Lewis Dobbin was felled in the area early in the second half.
The Welshman saw his kick saved, however, and Palace netted a penalty of their own minutes later when Robert Street slotted in from 12 yards.
Street’s close-range finish on 59 minutes then put Palace 3-0 ahead.
Whitaker curled in from 20 yards to the give the Blues a glimmer of hope, but they were unable to mount sustained pressure in the final stages and Palace saw out the victory.
“We had seven lads playing who should in in the Under-18s, and it’s a big ask for them,” Unsworth told evertonfc.com.
“Palace are a big, strong, physical side who were older than us – and physicality is massive at this level and at the top level.
“These lads are learning on the job and they’ve got to learn fast. I felt we looked like a young, inexperienced team.
“We played a lot better with the ball [than in Monday’s 3-1 defeat to Liverpool], but games are won and lost in both penalty boxes and we’ve gifted them three goals and not taken our opportunities.
“Charlie scored a good goal but it was too little, too late. It’s too much of an ask to keep having to come back. We had no platform to build from.”
The result means Everton have taken one point from their first three Premier League 2 matches – with that earned after a stirring comeback from 2-0 behind at Blackburn Rovers.
The upcoming international break means the young Blues' next game is on Friday 10 September when Derby County visit Southport FC.
Unsworth explained how he and his coaching staff will use this time to address the issues they have recognised in their opening 2021/22 games.
“We’ve got to keep working and working on the training ground,” he said.
“Unfortunately, because of Covid, we haven’t been able to do all the work we would normally do. We’re only able to be in for one session a day, and that’s difficult.
“But the lads have got to keep going. That’s the job they’re in.
“I know the levels needed and, barring the final 20 minutes at Blackburn, so far we’ve fallen below the standard required at this level.
“Maybe we need to look at the system and change the way we play.
"We don’t want to, we want to play an expansive game, but maybe we need to go back to some basics for the next couple of games."