A desperately unlucky Conor Coady own goal and injury-time penalty was the difference as Everton were edged 3-1 by Manchester United in the FA Cup third round despite a spirited and encouraging display at Old Trafford.
Frank Lampard’s resolute Blues responded to an early opener from Antony to level on 14 minutes when Coady made the most of a David De Gea error to finish from close range.
But the England international could do little about the hosts’ second shortly after half-time as he turned in Marcus Rashford’s low cross.
Everton never gave up against a strong and in-form United team, however, being denied a Dominic Calvert-Lewin equaliser 17 minutes time when Demarai Gray was ruled offside by inches in the build-up to the striker’s close-range finish.
United then ensured their progress with virtually the last kick of the game, Rashford scoring from the penalty spot after Ben Godfrey brought down Alejandro Garnacho.
A performance full of promise was soured, though, following an injury to Alex Iwobi early into the second half which saw the Nigerian taken off on a stretcher.
Lampard made four changes to the starting XI from Tuesday’s defeat to Brighton & Hove Albion, defenders Seamus Coleman and Ben Godfrey, midfielder Amadou Onana and forward Neal Maupay coming into the side.
The Blues reverted to the 5-3-2 formation that earned them an impressive draw at reigning Premier League champions Manchester City on New Year’s Eve, with Coleman replacing Nathan Patterson – out for six weeks with a knee injury – at right wing-back and Maupay chosen over Calvert-Lewin, who boss Lampard confirmed was “feeling fatigue” having played successive matches following time out with a knee problem.
Just like at City, Everton looked to threaten on the counter but it was a swift response to an early Gray run that gave United a third-minute lead.
Anthony Martial won the ball in the Blues’ half, sent a ball wide left to Rashford who beat Godfrey and centred for Antony to finish at the far post.
It was nearly 2-0 moments later when Rashford picked up the ball on the edge of the area and drilled a finish just past the left-hand post.
Just like in the blue half of Manchester on the final day of 2022, however, Everton responded to going a goal behind.
First, Gray collected a square pass from Vitalli Mykolenko, took a touch on the left edge of the area and smacked a low finish that cracked the post and hit the back of David De Gea on the way out for a corner.
There was no way out for De Gea and United on 14 minutes, however. Onana did well to spin Luke Shaw and slide in Maupay on the right side of the area. The Frenchman cut back a pass across goal and, when De Gea let the ball through his legs, Coady was on hand to tuck home from a yard out.
Parity restored, Everton needed Jordan Pickford at his finest three minutes later as the in-form Rashford moved towards goal and played in Martial who looked certain to find the back of the net, only for England’s number one to race off his line and divert the French forward’s finish over the bar with his leg.
Chances in what was a frantic opening half eventually eased up, although Everton continued to provide real threat on the counter, Gray proving a constant threat down the left flank, with Onana and Idrissa Gana Gueye often breaking up play and winning possession in the centre of the park.
But it was United who went closest to netting again before the interval when the Blues were unlucky to lose the ball on the left touchline, enabling Christian Eriksen to cut inside and run along the edge of the area before whipping a shot inches over the bar.
Everton were dealt a huge blow at the start of the second half when Alex Iwobi collected the ball on halfway, sprinted down the right and, after a fair challenge by Tyrell Malacia, fell awkwardly. The Nigerian’s teammates immediately asked the physio to come on and, after treatment, the popular midfielder was taken off on a stretcher and replaced by Abdoulaye Doucoure.
The Blues found themselves behind again moments later, too. Rashford found space down the left touchline and crossed along the six-yard box and, as Coady stuck out a leg to clear, he could only divert the ball into his own net.
Despite the setbacks, Everton kept their cool and went agonisingly close to levelling for a second time just past the hour mark.
Doucoure was in acres of space down the right to move into the area. When the midfielder was crowded out, Coleman was able to fire the ball across goal that De Gea saved with his legs, Maupay looking to finish the rebound only for Dalot to clear off the line.
Lampard’s men kept plugging away and they thought they had their equaliser on 73 minutes. A slick move involving substitute Calvert-Lewin and a flick from Gray enabled Coleman to burst into the area, slide in Gray whose wicked delivery was finished by the chest of Calvert-Lewin.
As 9,500 Evertonians went into delirium, though, the celebrations were cut short when VAR showed Gray to be offside by the smallest of margins in the build-up.
The Blues rolled the dice with 10 minutes remaining as Anthony Gordon – back from recent illness – and Dwight McNeil came on for Coleman and Mykolenko.
Lampard’s men finished the tie in strong fashion, too, Gray drilling a 20-yard drive into the arms of De Gea and United scrambling away a Godfrey cross in injury-time.
Godfrey had to be alert at the other end in the dying seconds to thwart Rashford as he looked to finish inside the area.
But he could do little to stop substitute Garnacho moments later, enabling Rashford to slot past England teammate Pickford from the resulting penalty.
It ensured Everton bowed out of the Cup, but not before restoring pride after the pain of the Brighton defeat three days earlier.