Sean Lundon drew plenty of positives from the spirited performance of a young Everton team which exited the Lancashire Senior Cup following defeat by Rochdale.
Everton led the quarter-final tie at USM Finch Farm when Manasse Mampala struck with an accomplished first-time finish on 43 minutes.
Mampala’s strike partner Anthony Gordon converted a penalty with 11 minutes remaining. But Rochdale scored three times in the intervening period – levelling on the stroke of half-time before netting twice inside three second-half minutes – and Everton were unable to conjure up an equaliser following Gordon’s effort.
“Give credit to Rochdale, they pressed us hard and were slightly ahead of us physically,” said Everton Head of Academy Coaching Lundon.
“It was a good opportunity because of our hectic programme to give boys who have not had a lot of football a chance to play.
“And it was a good test for them because it was a competitive game. Rochdale were quite strong and an older team, with three of four senior players.”
Mampala would have put Everton two in front were it not for a fabulous one-handed stop from Magnus Norman, the goalkeeper on loan with Rochdale from Fulham.
Norman’s save assumed even greater significance 60 seconds later, when visiting forward Matty Gillam sent a dipping 25-yard strike beyond Mateusz Hewelt in Everton’s goal.
Midfielder Aaron Morley dispatched a free-kick from similar range on 58 minutes. And before long Rochdale had a two-goal cushion, Jordan Williams driving low into the net from inside the box.
Gillam was denied a second by the woodwork and Everton were right back in it when Gordon shot home from 12 yards.
The game became stretched as Everton chased a leveller and Hewelt kept alive the hosts’ hopes when he saved a penalty from Gillam with five minutes remaining.
Everton could not locate the breakthrough which would have hauled them back on terms, however, and it is Rochdale who advance to meet Burnley in the last four.
“We were really pleased with how the lads rallied,” added Lundon.
“A lot of them have not played much football in the past few months and there were a few tired legs towards the end of the game.
“We were in the ascendancy when we got the goal for 3-2 and were desperately trying to get an equaliser. They caught us on the break a few times and hit the bar – and got their penalty.
“It was good for Anthony Gordon to get 90 minutes and he looked sharp. Alex Denny came through half a game without any problems after his injury and Elliot Richards came back following his time out and got 90 minutes.
“Two of Rochdale’s goals came from us trying to play out from the back and sometimes you have to live with that when they are developing players.
“It was a good game and we have no complaints at all.”