Everton Under-23s were edged out 4-3 by West Ham United in a see-saw clash at Finch Farm on Monday evening.
Lewis Dobbin, Tom Cannon and Luke Butterfield were on the scoresheet for Everton but – despite leading 2-0 and 3-2 in the match – the young Blues were beaten in an end-to-end contest.
John Ebbrell’s side will conclude their 2021/22 campaign on Friday at Manchester City, who have already been confirmed as Premier League 2 champions. A draw for Everton, who occupy 11th in the table, will ensure their place in Premier League 2 next season.
Speaking in the aftermath of the West Ham defeat, Ebbrell said: “I thought we played really well with the ball.
“We cut them open with some good football at times and they are a strong team with good one-v-one players.
“We put a lot into it but we can’t concede four goals and expect to win games. There were five or six players who I can say played really well but have ended up on the losing team.
“The players are on the right path and they’re getting the right lessons and that was a real proper game of football.
“We’ll go to City on Friday to perform. We have just got to carry on doing what we’re doing in terms of level of performance but just not concede goals.”
Everton were looking for their second win in succession after defeating 2-0 Chelsea at Goodison Park in their previous game.
And the young Blues got off to a superb start when Dobbin’s excellent curled finish found the top corner on nine minutes.
Butterfield had a chance to extend the lead after Isaac Price’s driving run and cutback found him just outside the area, but his fizzed effort was deflected just wide.
It didn't take Everton much longer to get their second, however. Billy Crellin’s phenomenal diving save sparked a quick counter-attack, which ended with Cannon one-v-one with West Ham keeper Krisztián Hegyi. The Everton striker’s cool dink saw him score a second goal in as many games for the Toffees.
West Ham showed their resilience and, after finding some joy down the left wing, got themselves back in the game. Sonny Perkins netted with a smart finish after a low cross dropped kindly at his feet.
West Ham drew level three minutes into the second half, with Perkins scoring his second of the night, firing a low shot past Crellin.
Emilio Lawrence sought to quickly get Everton back ahead, forcing a strong save from Hegyi just moments after the Blues conceded.
Everton were back ahead after Dobbin showed his class to win a dangerous free-kick just outside the West Ham penalty area. Cannon fired an effort onto the post and the ball rebounded generously to Butterfield, who made no mistake to tap home.
The Hammers pushed for an equaliser, but Everton captain Ryan Astley and centre-back partner Reece Welch threw their bodies on the line for their side.
West Ham did get their leveller on the 70-minute mark, though, when left-back Emmanuel Longelo slotted in.
The visitors then struck the decisive goal with 12 minutes to go when Armstrong Oko-Flex cut in from the left-hand side and struck a powerful effort past Crellin.
Everton were understandably upset with the goal, with captain Astley off the pitch at the time after being told to change his ripped shirt.
Ebbrell added: “That was frustrating for us. I don’t really understand what it was all about. We weren’t asking Ryan to have his shirt changed. The ref made him do it and then blew the whistle straight away to star the game. It just seemed bizarre.”
Cannon came agonisingly close to earning Everton a point when his chip from outside the area came inches from dropping in after he caught Hegyi off his line.
It was not to be for Everton, though, who now have three days to prepare their key clash with champions City.