UNDER-21S REPORT: EVERTON 0 CHELSEA 0
Our Under-21s' final away game of the season ended with a second successive draw as the Blues and Everton played out a stalemate at Southport FC.
It was Chelsea who will feel we should have been heading back to London with all three points after Milan Lalkovic hit the post midway through the first half.
The second half produced little in the way of goalscoring opportunities, but it was a well-earned point ahead of Monday's home game against Blackburn Rovers.
Monday's FA Youth Cup final will undoubtedly have had some bearing on team selection, although Nathan Ake and John Swift, who will both harbour hopes of starting against Norwich City at Carrow Road, were both named in the team by Andy Myers, who took charge in the absence of Dermot Drummy. Daniel Pappoe captained the side, while Lalkovic started in attack, flanked by Jesse Starkey and Connor Hunte.
The home side fashioned the first opportunity of the game inside the opening two minutes, and it took a wonderful point-blank stop by Jamal Blackman to thwart Joe Williams and keep us on level terms.
It took until the 15th minute for the Blues, who were playing in a changed strip of black and yellow, to threaten the Everton goal, but Lalkovic's header from Lamisha Musonda's corner was always rising and sailed over the top.
We were seeing plenty of possession, but our failure to switch the play quick enough was allowing the hosts to get men behind the ball and limit our attacking threat.
There were certainly positives to take from the manner in which we were taking the game to Alan Stubbs' side, however, and Myers will have been pleased with the early contribution of Starkey in particular.
Twenty five minutes into the game we should have been in front. Lalkovic reacted quickest to pounce on a loose ball, but as the forward raced through on goal, his effort, which had Russell Griffiths beaten, brushed against the outside of the post and rolled behind for a goal-kick.
As the half-hour mark approached, Everton's only attempt on goal had been Williams' effort early on, and we were defending well as a unit.
On the one occasion they did manage to get in behind us, Aziz Deen-Conteh read the situation well and headed clear a dangerous cross from wide on the left by Matthew Kennedy.
At the other end, Lalkovic again went close, this time when his header from Deen-Conteh's cross cannoned off an Everton defender as it looked destined for the bottom corner.
Four minutes before the break the Chelsea striker saw another chance go begging when he was unable to connect with a delightful cross by Musonda, and as the players went in at half-time we were unfortunate not to be in front.
It was Everton who started the second half the brighter of the two sides, and they almost broke the deadlock soon after the restart when George Green took a Gethin Jones pass in his stride and fizzed a strike inches past the post with Blackman well beaten.
Myers made his first substitution of the night on the hour, replacing Ake with Jonathan Muleba, but it was developing into a half where both sides were struggling to carve out any clear-cut chances.
As the game wore on it looked increasingly like one goal would be enough to secure the points, and after Lalkovic flicked a Musonda corner over the bar, Ryan Ledson took aim for the hosts 25 yards from goal but fired high and wide.
For Everton, Green looked the player most likely to make the difference, but after picking up a wayward pass from Isak Ssewankambo he ignored the calls of his team-mates and opted to go alone, failing to test Blackman with his strike from outside the penalty area.
Fifteen minutes from time the impressive Starkey, who looked to be tiring, was replaced by Ismail Seremba as the Blues looked to inject some fresh legs into our attacking play, and Swift was unlucky to see his effort fly over the bar soon after.
Everton looked the more threatening of the two teams in the closing stages but we stood firm and held on for a deserved point.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Jamal Blackman; Fankaty Dabo, Daniel Pappoe (c), Nathan Ake (Jonathan Muleba 60), Aziz Deen-Conteh; Lamisha Musonda, Isak Ssewankambo, John Swift; Jesse Starkey (Ismail Seremba 75), Milan Lalkovic, Connor Hunte.
Unused substitutes: Mark Beeney (GK), Sam Bangura, Nortei Nortey.
Everton (4-3-3): Russell Griffiths; John Stones, Ryan Ledson, Johan Hammar, Luke Garbutt; Gethin Jones, Tyias Browning, Joe Williams (Conor Grant 85); George Green, Courtney Duffus (Christopher Long 75), Matthew Kennedy.
Unused substitutes: Matthew Pennington, Ben McLaughlin, Jake Adelson.