City u18s were left heartbroken after a narrow loss to a strong Everton side in the Premier League play-off final.
The boy Blues gave an impressive performance and created plenty of chances, but could not quite find the crucial ball to breach the Toffees’ defences at a sun-drenched Goodison Park.
City were looking to round off what had already been a spectacular season by being crowned u18 National Champions. After comfortably finishing top of the North Division, the Blues saw off West Ham 2-1 in the subsequent semi-final – showing character and team spirit to recover from an early Hammers goal.
Everton at Goodison Park was the reward, and for many of the young squad it would be the first opportunity to impress on a Premier League playing surface, and one that will be hosting Europa League football next season.
It always looked likely to be a close encounter – the two teams had already met twice this season with honours even, after the home side took all three points in each case.
With almost a full squad available to pick from, Jason Wilcox selected a strong side for this trip to Merseyside, and there was just one change from the side that triumphed over West Ham.
Kean Bryan, who came off the bench to score the winner against the Hammers, regained his place in the starting XI, while Pablo Maffeo took his place amongst the substitutes and Ashley Smith-Brown moved to right back.
Brandon Barker and Jorge Intima supported top scorer Thierry Ambrose up front, a triumvirate which has consistently fired for City all season and been responsible for a large portion of the 87 league goals.
With so much at stake for both sides, it was perhaps understandable that the early stages were a cagey affair, but it gave City a chance to get a feel for the Goodison Park playing surface and they exploded into life just after the ten minute mark.
Barker and Intima both found defenders in the way of their powerful shots after pulling off great runs down the wings, while Bryan was desperately unlucky to see his well-placed free kick tipped away from the top corner by Russell Griffiths in the Everton goal.
After weathering the initial City storm, the hosts began to gain more of a foothold in the possession game, but struggled to gain much influence in the final third against the powerful centre back partnership of Nathaniel Oseni and Tosin Adarabioyo.
Billy O’Brien faced his first genuine test after over half an hour, but he was able to make a good stop and cling on to Courtney Duffus’ effort after a scramble in the box.
Meanwhile, at the other end City’s attacking trio were keeping the pressure on the Toffees, with Barker, Intima and Ambrose all having further efforts on goal as the Blues sought to make their chances count before the half time whistle.
Ambrose came agonisingly close to opening the scoring when he reached the ball first after the keeper palmed away another long range effort from Jack Byrne, but he stumbled slightly and Griffiths was able to get his body in the way.
There were chances for both teams as the break approached, with Oseni making a fantastic double block to keep the game goalless, before a jinking run from Denzeil Boadu nearly allowed Ambrose to fire home – but he once again found the gloves of the excellent Griffiths in the way.
Everton would have been the happier of the two sides to go into half time with the scoreline still 0-0, but they seized the initiative after the break and took the lead with virtually the first genuine chance of the half.
O’Brien made a super stop to keep out the initial effort from substitute Michael Donohue, but he could do nothing about the follow up from Harry Charsley, who took two touches to steady himself before curling the ball into the back of the net.
Momentum swung briefly towards the Toffees, and O’Brien had to be on the alert once more to tip the ball behind, while Adarabioyo made a desperate clearance following a well-angled corner.
At the other end, City found Everton limbs in the way of every chance they created – Byrne saw yet another shot blocked while Ambrose’s clever chip was diverted just inches wide of the left hand stick.
Charlsey might have made it two after a quick turn in the box, but the ball flew wide of O’Brien’s post, while Griffiths was forced to make saves in quick succession from Ambrose and Nemane as both sides kept the opposing keepers busy.
But in the end, the all-important goal eluded the boy Blues as this game proved one too many, but this result should not detract from a sensational season that will leave the team raring to go when the new campaign kicks off in August.