Everton Under-23s suffered a one-goal defeat by Manchester United after visiting forward Anthony Elanga scored in the third minute of a game that finished with a trio of red cards in stoppage time.
United made the best-possible start at Southport when Shola Shoretire faked to shoot from the right-hand side of the box, opening up space for Elanga, who made no mistake with his close-range finish.
Elanga’s goal breathed confidence throughout the United side, with the likes of Charlie Savage and Shoretire dropping deep to receive the ball and full-backs Charlie Wellens and Alvaro Fernandez Carreras given license to venture forward.
The young Toffees weren’t disheartened by the early setback, however, and continued to push forward, pressing well through Charlie Whitaker and Isaac Price, the latter often popping up in half spaces between the opposition defence and midfield in order to drag players out of position when in possession.
United’s fluid front four proved a constant threat throughout the first half, however, with Dillon Hoogewerf and Zidane Iqbal looking dangerous down the right and left flanks respectively.
As the half wore on, Blues' wing-backs Kyle John and Joe Anderson began to embark on more forward runs, with John, especially, whipping a number of dangerous crosses into the box.
Everton’s clearest sight of goal, perhaps, came in the 38th minute, as Reece Welch’s fizzed forward ball into the feet of Whitaker, poised to run clean through. was too hot to control.
A goal down at half-time, the home side came out for the second half with plenty of zip in their passing but struggling to create any clear scoring opportunities. The majority of Everton's threatening moments came from crosses, Anderson in particular looking to cause the Manchester United defence problems.
Everton goalkeeper Jack Barrett was called into action early in the second half, pushing Elanga’s 25-yard free-kick past the post to deny the forward his second goal of the game.
Manager David Unsworth’s side continued to threaten from balls into the box, with Rhys Hughes’ free-kick headed back across goal by Jarrad Branthwaite but dealt with by the United defence.
Substitutes Sean McAllister and Rafael Garcia provided some bright moments after their arrivals, linking up nicely down the left wing before McAllister saw his low effort saved by United keeper Matej Kovar.
A 90th-minute scuffle between the two sides resulted in three red cards, with Everton’s Whitaker and United pair Elanga and Bjorn Hardley given their marching orders.
Everton have eight days before resuming their Premier League 2 campaign at West Ham United on Saturday but, meantime, go to League 2 Carlisle United on Tuesday for a Football League Trophy game.