Town fell to a shootout defeat at the hands of Everton under-21’s after their Papa Johns Trophy clash had ended 1-1 after 90 minutes.
Town had fallen behind to an early Stan Mills strike but left nothing to chance after the break in making all five substitutions and throwing caution to the wind saw them deservedly level through Danny Grant’s first goal for the club.
Luke Armstrong and Alex Pattison both missed Town’s first two spot kicks after Mark Oxley saved Katia Kouyate’s strike but Isaac Price and Tom Cannon put Everton in a strong position. Jaheim Headley netted with aplomb but Seb Quirk struck the final kick to win the shoot-out 4-2.
Simon Weaver opted for a much changed line-up with only Luke Armstrong and Sam Folarin from the side that started against Bradford in the eleven this evening. This meant a return to action for Josh Falkingham after his spell on the sidelines as well as a start for George Horbury following suspension.
And Falkingham received an early welcome back to action when he was clattered by Isaac Price in the opening minute.
Town began the game in positive fashion, Armstrong receiving a ball from Horbury before holding off his man and firing into the side netting.
Tyler Frost, another returning player, pounced on a loose ball and rather than take a touch elected to strike first time and he forced Zan-Luk Leban into tipping the ball over the bar.
Town fell behind on eleven minutes though when Everton made their first foray into the Town danger zone. Mills picked up the ball and drove towards the edge of the area before clinically firing low past the left hand of Mark Oxley.
Minutes later Everton could have doubled their lead when Tom Cannon’s clever turn left Kyle Ferguson stranded, but he shot wide with just Oxley to beat.
Armstrong and Danny Grant were beginning to combine well for Town and one such move saw Armstrong with another opportunity but his low shot was parried away by Luban.
Goalscorer Mills then outpaced Lewis Richards but somewhat snatched at his chance and sliced the ball well wide.
Ferguson was seeing plenty of the ball in the opposition box, primarily from set pieces but found himself with a golden opportunity when a loose ball fell to him when well placed. However, he struck his effort high and wide without troubling Leban.
The big defender then found himself the first name of the evening to go in referee Edwards’s notebook when he tugged Katia Kouyate.
Charlie Whitaker had an opportunity on the stroke of the half to extend the visitors lead but his shot lacked the power and direction to trouble Oxley.
Town caught the Everton defence out in the opening minutes after the break when Frost broke down the left to cut back for Armstrong but last season’s top scorer couldn’t make the connection needed.
Sensing his side needed a jolt Simon Weaver made a quartet of changes on 55 minutes when Jaheim Headley, Alex Pattison, Josh Austerfield and Emanuel Ilesanmi were introduced for Horbury, Lewis Richards, Miles Welch-Hayes and Sam Folarin.
The visitors also made a change when Roman Dixon replaced Matthew Mallon.
Headley made an immediate impact moments after being introduced when he galloped down the left but couldn’t pick out one of the waiting Town players advancing into the area.
Kouyate was forced off through injury just after the hour mark and he was replaced by Francis Okoronkwo.
Austerfield then went into the back when he mis-timed a challenge on Mills after Oxley had raced out of his goal to smother further danger from the visitors.
With twenty minutes remaining Weaver made their final change of the night when Ilesanmi was introduced for Frost, with Town now sporting an attacking formation in search of a way back into the game.
And the switch paid immediate dividends when Grant pounced at the far post to meet a Pattison cross to notch his first goal in Town colours.
Everton made their third change in response to being pegged back when Ishe Samuels-Smith made way for Mackenzie Hunt.
Austerfield had a glorious chance to put Town ahead when a half-clearance fell straight to him but his right-footed strike was dragged well wide of the target.
Everton responded with a curling free-kick from substitute Hunt that stung Oxley’s hands and forced the Town keeper to palm clear.
The moment for Town to take all three points came with just three minutes remaining. Good work from Ilesanmi saw him tee up Grant for a shot at goal from no more than ten yards out but although he struck the ball cleanly
it flashed a yard or two wide.
With penalties looming there was one final twist when a strong run and shot from Whitaker looked to be heading for the bottom corner before the fingertips of Oxley touched the ball inches wide of the post.
Despite an early shootout save from Town’s keeper the two early misses proved costly, but their second showing was good enough to earn a point and was good enough to leave Town with hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages should they defeat Morecambe in their final group game in a fortnights time.
TOWN: Oxley, Burrell, Welch-Hayes (Ramsay, 55), Ferguson, Richards (Headley, 55), Folarin (Pattison, 55), Falkingham, Horbury (Austerfield, 55), Frost, Grant, Armstrong.
Substitutes: Jameson, Ilesanmi, Williams.
Booked: Ferguson (38), Austerfield (65)
Goal: Grant (72)
Everton under-21’s: Zan-Luk Leban, Cannon, Quirk, Mills, Whitaker, Samuels-Smith (Hunt, 75), Price, Welch, Mallon (Dixon, 55), Kouyate (Okoronkwo, 64) Campbell.
Subs: Barrett, Anderson, Hunt, Djankpata, Heath.
Goals: Mills (11)
Booked: Price (85)
Referee: Marc Edwards