Paul Tait says his Everton Under-18 side deserve enormous credit for a performance brimming with “effort, quality and determination" after being reduced to 10 men against Manchester United – and the young Blues will recover quickly from the “kick in the teeth” of losing to a last-ditch penalty.
The two teams traded chances during an explosive opening period of the game at USM Finch Farm. But Everton were dealt a blow when defender Josh Hosie was red carded after collecting his second booking on 26 minutes.
Manager Tait promptly shifted midfielder Einar Iversen to right-back, with forward Korede Adedoyin asked to operate on the right flank and lend support to lone striker Ellis Simms.
Table-topping Everton refused to limit themselves to a containing job, however, and Simms drew a fine stop from United goalkeeper James Thompson not long after the break.
“We started exactly how we wanted, we were brilliant and could have scored two goals,” Tait told evertonfc.com.
“It was a proper game… high tempo, fast, a real high-quality, top-of-the-table clash.
“The sending off spoiled it in terms of that.
“It is hard enough to go to-to-toe with Manchester United with 11 players, never mind 10.
“But after that it was an amazing performance from the lads.
“We did not just hang on, we threatened and should have had a penalty in the second half.
“We defended really well, were organised and always had Ellis and Korede threatening on the counter.”
Everton remain at the summit of Premier League North, Tait’s side holding a one-point advantage over Liverpool.
Derby County and Manchester United are one point further adrift in third and fourth respectively.
And Tait insists the unfamiliar experience of competing a man down against high-calibre opposition will hold his side in very good stead for the rest of the campaign.
He conceded the young Blues were “on the floor” after United midfielder Dylan Levitt converted from the spot at the death following a slip from home centre-half Michael Collins.
But Tait, whose team meet Brighton & Hove Albion in an FA Youth Cup fifth-round tie at Goodison Park next Tuesday, underlined the long-term value his players will reap from toughing out in difficult circumstances.
Simms, for instance, had 19 goals in 11 league matches prior the meeting with United but, according to Tait, delivered one of his most accomplished displays of the season in the face of adversity.
“Ellis was a real handful up against four defenders, it was one of his best performances in terms of being a threat and playing with his back to goal,” added Tait.
“He was a proper number 9 up on his own and put in a real shift along with the other boys.
“There were some absolutely outstanding individual performances and it would be unfair to single out any one of them.
“It was another side of the game the boys don’t often get a go at, you have to dig in, roll up your sleeves, put in a shift, play out of position and help your team.
“We have only used it as a positive. Okay, we switched off at the end. But that was not through lack of skill, effort or application.
"Sometimes these things happen, you hang on and hang on, then they get a penalty. And it was a kick in the teeth.
“The players were absolutely on the floor but it was our job as coaches to lift them.
“The effort and determination from the team was first class.”