Everton FC’s hopes of FA Youth Cup glory were cruelly dashed as they went out to Southampton after a penalty shoot-out.
The young Blues looked to be heading out of the competition in normal time despite dominating the game after Kyle Clinton put Saints ahead early in the second-half.
But with eight minutes remaining man-of-the-match Michael Donohue pounced to send the game into extra-time.
Everton probed for the second goal but could not breach the Saints defence for a second time despite controlling the tie.
Chances came and went for the hosts at Goodison but Southampton were indebted to goalkeeper Harry Isted who produced a string of fine saves throughout and palmed away two of the Blues spot-kicks.
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And after saving Harry Charsley’s penalty, Southampton’s Joe Lea sent Everton’s Mateusz Heweklt the wrong way to send them through 5-4.
Defeat felt cruel on Everton’s Academy players but coach Paul Tait – though able to draw positives from the performances of a number – will feel his side should have sealed their passage into the fifth round.
The young Blues had set the early tempo for what developed into an entertaining first-half.
But Southampton quickly grew into the game and after Liam Walsh and Dowell fired in efforts it would be the visitors who forced the first meaningful save.
Fifteen-year-old Callum Slattery, highly-thought of down on the south coast, was denied by Mateusz Hewelt in the Everton goal before the Blues keeper saved from Niall Mason following a neat one-two on the edge of the area.
Southampton were into their groove now and only a superb last-ditch tackle from James Graham stopped Marcus Barnes having a clear sight of goal.
Not long after it would be Ryan Ledson with the well-timed challenge in the area.
But Everton’s response will have pleased coach Paul Tait with first Kieran Dowell going close after excellent work from Joseph Williams and Michael Donohue down the right hand side.
Blues frontman Callum Dyson was beginning to exert some influence in the game but will have been frustrated to blaze an effort over the bar after classy work from Dowell and then head Ledson’s cross wide later in the half.
Ormksirk-born Dowell came close to breaking the deadlock just past the half hour but was denied by a full-stretch Isted save before Dyson, edging closer to the target, whipped an effort marginally wide of the Southampton goal.
Two minutes into the second-half it looked as though Everton would come to rue those misses as Kyle Clinton fired Southampton in front from a corner to make it 1-0.
The Blues response to falling behind was positive enough and Donohue continued to cause problems for Saints left-back Joshua Debayo.
Ledson fizzed a drive from the edge just over before Dyson headed just wide at the back post and Williams nodded an effort straight at Isted.
With just eight minutes remaining, Everton finally beat the Saints keeper.
A dipping drive from substitute Harry Charsley was palmed away but Donohue reacted quickest to slot home the rebound and make it 1-1.
Everton pressed for the winner but were forced into extra-time where they continued to dictate much of the play.
But once more they were finding Southampton stubborn opposition – and Isted in inspired form.
The Saints keeper made a fine save to deny Charsley from close range before Southampton managed to scramble away the rebound.
The pattern of Everton dominance – but few chances – was restored in the second-half of extra-time.
Captain Jordan Thorniley headed wide before Ledson had another attempt from distance go over and then, in time added no, Delial Brewster hit Charsley’s cross over the bar from eight yards.
Penalties would decide the tie and after a tense shoot-out Lea’s spot-kick won it for the visitors.
EVERTON (4-1-4-1): Hewelt, Kenny, Connolly, Graham, Thorniley (c), Ledson, Donohue, Williams (Newell 80), Dyson (Brewster 72), Walsh (Charsley 65), Dowell. Subs: O’Loughlin, Yates.
Goals: Donohue (82)
Yellow Cards: None
Red Cards: None
SOUTHAMPTON (4-2-3-1): Isted, Mason, Debayo (Wood 56), Jones, Clinton, Cook, Sims, Little (c), Barnes, Slattery (Lea 86), Demkiv (Willard 60). Subs: Hallett, Olomola.
Goals: Clinton (47)
Yellow Cards: Barnes, Cook
Red Cards: None
Referee: Mr S Oldham
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