Sheffield United bowed out of the FA Youth Cup at the fifth round stage last night after being beaten 2-0 by three time winners Everton.
Goals from Courtney Duffus and a Gethin Jones penalty ended their hopes of repeating their march into the final three years ago.
But United, who saw substitutes Louis Reed and Daniel Cockerline go close after the interval, showed plenty of attacking intent during a much improved second-half display with Dominic Calvert-Lewin also striking the woodwork.
The exploits of the club’s next generation in knockout competition this season might not have generated the same headlines as those enjoyed by Nigel Clough’s side.
But their advance into the later stages of the tournament has been just as significant given the emphasis the first team manager places on developing home-grown talent.
Diego De Girolamo, Calvert-Lewin and Connor Dimaio have all been handed senior call-ups of late as Clough, watching this match unfold from the Bramall Lane stands, looks to promote through the ranks.
Jake Eastwood caught his eye with a smart near post save as Everton, who also place similar emphasis on their own youth programme, looked to impose themselves from the start.
Having parried Calum Dyson’s close-range shot away to safety, the United goalkeeper breathed a sigh of relief when Duffus fired narrowly wide soon after.
Harry Charsley also misjudged his angles after meeting another cross from the dangerous Dyson.
However United, despite spending most of the early skirmishes trying to keep Everton at arms-length, wasted a glorious opportunity to take the lead when De Girolamo elected to try and shoot rather than centre for the unmarked Otis Khan.
Calvert-Lewin, deployed in defence rather than his usual attacking role, showed good awareness by forcing Joe Williams to shoot from an almost impossible distance as Everton, with former Sheffield Wednesday manager Alan Irvine patrolling the touchline, regain their grip on proceedings.
Nevertheless, United’s rapier-like counter-attacks, combined with the quick feet of De Girolamo, ensured the visitors could never truly settle until Duffus fired them into a 39th minute lead.
The manner in which the ball made its way towards the centre-forward was fortuitious - spiralling through the air following a challenge between Charsley and Calvert-Lewin - but the touch which allowed him to slide home beyond Eastwood was superb.
Jones doubled Everton’s lead from the spot after Eastwood, who nearly turned his kick around the post, was harshly adjudged to have felled Duffus seven minutes after the restart.
Calvert-Lewin hit the foot of the post as United looked to reduce the deficit before Eastwood denied Duffus with a fine double save before Russell Griffiths was troubled by Cockerline’s looping effort.
*United: Eastwood, Paling, Scarisbrick (Cockerline 74), Whiteman (Reed 58), Evans, Banton, Dimaio, Calvert-Lewin, Eyre (Coustrain 58), De Girolamo, Khan. Not used: Cheeseman, Owen.
*Everton: Griffiths, Jones, Thornily (Connolly 78), Graham, Langton, Williams, Dyson (Donohue 69), Ledson (Shannon 88), C Duffus, T Duffus, Charsley. Not used: Hewitt, Brewster.