Preston North End U18s get their FA Youth Cup campaign underway on Tuesday as they go up against Tottenham Hotspur U18s in the third round.
It will be the third time the young Lilywhites face Premier League opposition in 2017, having hosted both Everton and Stoke City at Deepdale in last season’s FA Youth Cup, advancing on penalties against the Toffees in January while the latter edged a quarter-final tie a month later.
That run to the last eight was the best any PNE side had managed since North End lost the 1960 final 5-2 on aggregate against Chelsea, and although conscious of the quality which Tottenham have, youth team manager Nick Harrison believes his players will do the club proud again this time around.
“I don’t think you can compare this with last year’s run, although it was obviously fantastic what the players achieved last season,” Harrison told PNE.com. “It’s good that we have some players who were involved in that last year and are now second-year scholars, so I think that will help them and they will be able to help the younger players as well.
“The players who played in the FA Youth Cup last year will benefit from that experience which they gained. We beat some big clubs and we’re going to face another big club in this game, so I think it will help them mentally.
“We know that this is going to be a really tough game against a massive club. Tottenham are a category one academy and have a different games programme to ours and some exceptional young players who perform on an international level, but we’ve got real belief in our players, too.
"Our players have a great work ethic and that they can play the type of football we’re asking them to play. In order to have a chance of getting a positive result, the players are going to have do everything to their maximum.
“That’s all we can ask of them so if they do that, we will be proud of them. We’re just challenging them to put in a good performance on the night that will make everyone at Preston North End proud.”
North End come into the game on the back of five consecutive wins but haven’t played since the start of the month, a 2-1 success over Walsall, after Saturday’s scheduled fixture against Lincoln City was postponed.
The Lilywhites are third in the North West Youth Alliance after 12 matches, with the three defeats suffered in the league the only losses marked against North End’s youngsters all season. In other cup competitions, they have already booked a place in the semi-final of the Lancashire FA Youth Cup and are well positioned in their Youth Alliance Cup group.
Meanwhile, Spurs, managed by former England international, Scott Parker, sit seventh in the U18 Premier League South, having drawn 4-4 with Chelsea on Saturday, while a number of their scholars featured in the U19s side which recently progressed from a UEFA Youth League group which included Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund.
“It’s great to have had a good run of results, but we’ve had good performances throughout that as well which is even more pleasing, and that’s what we will challenge the players to do on Tuesday because we really want them to put in a good performance.
“We’ve had quite a long period since the draw was made, so we’ve watched Tottenham a number of times in terms of the match analysis, so we’ve certainly done our homework. If we are going to compete, the players have to be at their best, the intensity needs to be there and the mentality to perform on the big occasion. The players are certainly prepared and are really looking forward to it.
“We know it’s going to be a really tough game, but if we perform like we have been doing in previous games, then we give ourselves a chance of getting a positive result.”
Harrison reiterated the belief he has in his players, and hopes they will enjoy the occasion while also showing confidence in their own abilities.
“I think this is a fantastic opportunity to play in a Football League stadium and it’s going to be under lights with a number of fans there watching, so this is exactly what the players want to achieve throughout their careers and this is the starting point. The players are really looking forward to it and we’ve done an awful lot of preparation with them and the coaches.
“We’ve got a real belief in our players and have seen a lot of them develop as young players, as some of them have been with us from being eight years old and we’ve added to that with real quality from outside the club.
“We believe in them, but what’s going to be key is the players having that belief in themselves and if they do, and they’ve worked to their maximum in every aspect of the game, they give themselves a better chance of getting a positive result.”
You can read more about all of the players in the U18s squad and view our player profiles by clicking here.
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