Everton Under-21s suffered last-gasp heartache at Birmingham City on Saturday afternoon in the Premier League Cup.
A scrappy affair was heading towards a goalless stalemate when Birmingham substitute Trevan Sanusi squeezed his 92nd minute shot past Jack Barrett and into the bottom corner of the net.
It was cruel on Everton after they’d had more opportunities to score than the hosts at Nuneaton Borough.
Early in the game a lovely weighted pass from Isaac Heath found Stan Mills on the Everton right but the low cross into the box was missed by Tom Cannon.
Mills was involved again shortly after when his angled drive was well saved by Bradley Mayo.
There was a huge let-off for Everton midway through the opening period when Frank Tattum completely missed his kick when no more than three-yards from goal
The Birmingham centre-froward did rather better with a diving header that was pushed away well by Zan-Luk Leban.
A nice bit of skill from Mills created an opening for himself but again the keeper was equal to the final effort, as he was when Cannon smashed a shot straight at him.
Mills was a livewire and he wasn’t far off target with a volley from a Seb Quirk centre early in the second half.
In a scrappy affair, Everton continued to be the more creative and Joe Anderson almost registered a Goal of the Season entry with a first-time half-volley from 30-yards that was touched over by Mayo.
At the other end, Leban had to be alert to palm away a towering header from Rico Browne.
Just after the hour mark, Paul Tait made FIVE substitutions and two of them crafted an instant opportunity. Katia Kouyate crossed from the left and Francis Okoronkwo saw his header saved.
Another headed effort, this time from Mackenzie Hunt was hacked off the line, then Okoronkwo was inches wide from another excellent delivery by Kouyate.
Okoronkwo thought he’d provided the breakthrough with ten minutes to go but his close-range effort, after more good approach play by Heath, was superbly blocked.
The contest had 0-0 written all over it until Sanusi’s late, late strike.
Despite the gut-wrenching way the game was lost, Under-21 coach Keith Southern felt the young Blues could have no complaints with the result.
“I think we got what we deserved, in truth,” he told evertonfc.com post-match.
“It was a tale of both boxes. We didn’t punish them with the multiple opportunities we created today in one box, and we didn’t defend a long ball into our box at the end.
“We’ve been done with a sucker punch and quite often that’s the tale of football, if you don’t perform in both boxes, everything in between doesn’t quite matter.
“We're bitterly disappointed after a fantastic evening on Wednesday.”
Tait’s side sealed a dramatic 2-1 win over Mansfield Town in the Papa John’s Trophy at Goodison Park on Wednesday night, and while Southern admits that could have taken its toll a little on the team physically, he doesn’t think it can be used as an excuse.
“We looked a bit leggy, but that’s part of this competition, that’s part of football, it’s part of playing every three or four days. It’s the real game.”
He continued: “We are obviously in a development group, a development phase and hopefully a lot of these boys will go on to have long careers. So, this is part of the learning behind it, whatever Wednesday evening brings, the emotion behind it, you have to pick yourself up and go again three days later.
“I don’t think we were quite at it today, we fashioned more than enough opportunities to win three or four games, but we were a little bit toothless in the final third. “