Paul Tait was relieved after Everton Under-18s edged through to the fifth round of the FA Youth Cup with a 3-1 win on penalties at Stoke City.
Keeper Harry Tyrer was the young Blues’ hero at the bet365 Stadium, superbly saving three spot-kicks in the shootout after Everton had surrendered an early two-goal lead to draw 2-2 as Stoke levelled in the 93rd minute.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better start but then when we got to 2-0 up we panicked,” said Everton Under-18s manager Tait. “They came at us and pressed us and we stopped playing football. We weren’t taking responsibility with the ball. Momentum then swung to them massively.
“They dug in for extra-time, we had players cramping up all over the pitch but it was about character, hard work and desire to get through.”
The opening goal of the game was scored by top-scorer Ellis Simms after just four minutes but owed much to the speed and determination of Anthony Gordon, who chased down a long ball and comfortably outpaced his marker before squaring the ball for the Under-18s’ leading marksman to convert.
The second goal was a cracker. Mackenzie Hunt made half a yard of space for himself on the edge of the Stoke box and curled a lovely shot past the keeper and into the top corner of the net.
The Blues were full value for their two-goal interval lead. The hosts rarely threatened Tyrer’s goal, although Abdoulaye Toure should have done much better when he fired a wild shot high over the bar with the Everton goal gaping.
On 57 minutes, Everton substitute Rhys Hughes, who came off the bench to replace the injured Bobby Carroll, came close to making it three with a superb shot from 20 yards but Nathan Broome in the Stoke goal somehow touched the effort onto the crossbar.
Stoke pulled a goal back with 20 minutes remaining. Tyrer made a terrific save to keep out a direct free-kick from Adam Porter but Ethon Varian followed up to prod home the rebound.
The goal was no more than the hosts deserved as Everton lost their grip on the contest. Stoke were more alert after the break than they had been in the opening half and the Toffees offered very little in the way of an attacking threat.
There was an air of inevitability to the scrambled equaliser that Stoke forced deep into stoppage time. A corner from the right was spilled by Tyrer and James Jennings forced the ball over the line.
Both sides look tired in the extra period as chances were limited. It meant the tie was to be decided by a shootout and when Hughes, Hunt and Ryan Astley all needed, Tyrer did the rest with three saves to secure Everton’s passage in the competition.
“I thought the penalties were magnificent, we were really calm under pressure,” said Tait. “We had a special word for Harry in the changing room because he would have been devastated if they had won the game.
“The over-riding thing is that we haven’t played well but we’ve gone through because of the character and the belief. It’s job done and they will learn so much from that tonight.”