Paul Tait believes fatigue played a part in Everton Under-21s' 2-1 home defeat to Southampton on Sunday.
It was a disappointing afternoon for Tait’s team who headed into their first Premier League Cup Group F match at Walton Hall Park high on confidence after an impressive 2-1 victory over Paris Saint-Germain in midweek.
The game started well with Isaac Price handing the Blues a first-half lead on 24 minutes, however, the visitors responded after the break, with 16-year-old Jimmy Morgan scoring a brace to seal the points for the Saints.
“We lacked energy and drive, the lads looked really tired,” said Tait following the defeat. “Whether that’s just because the load of games they have had recently, the game on Tuesday against PSG also took a lot out of them.
“Some of them didn’t even look like they had recovered, and then to come up against a team that’s really good in possession, they have some really good individuals, Southampton, a good way of playing, so that stretched us physically and then when we did turn it over and get into the final third, our play wasn’t incisive or as cutting as it has been.”
The closing stages were overshadowed by two late red cards for the Toffees, Sebastian Quirk was dismissed for two bookable offences in the 88th minute before Everton’s scorer Price also saw red for dissent.
“It’s just passion, I’m not going to take that out of them,” said Tait. “Seb’s on a yellow card, he’s got to learn to play on a yellow card, but he’s passionate, he’s a Blue, he wants to win, and he’s gone through someone, but he will learn from it.
“Isaac has said something to the referee because he’s frustrated. He was our best player by a mile and he’s flying at the moment.”
The fixture also marked a return from injury for defender Ben Godfrey as he completed 57 minutes in the heart of the young Blues’ defence.
At the other end of the pitch, neither Stanley Mills nor Tom Cannon was available for selection following their involvement in men's senior team action 24 hours earlier, with the latter making his Premier League debut down on the south coast against Bournemouth.
This opened the door for some of the club’s budding academy prospects to make the step up and get some minutes at a higher level, something Tait admitted is key not only to their development but also an important part of his role as the Under-21 boss.
“Stan’s (Mills) not there, Tom’s (Cannon) not there, but as I said to the boys, we’ve finished the game with six second-year scholars and one first-year scholar, so maybe it’s about developing these boys now as they could be the next ones in,” said Tait.
“That’s the job at Under-21 level, the best ones going up with the first team, because the pathway is there, and then we have to develop the boys coming from the Under-18's.”
Tait's side return to action on the week commencing 21 November in the Papa John’s Trophy last 32 where they’re set to take on League Two side Mansfield Town.