A much-changed Preston North End youth team fell to a 2-1 home defeat against Accrington Stanley’s youngsters on Saturday.
Stanley scored roughly half an hour into each half, as Harry Waterhouse broke the deadlock before Alex O’Neil doubled the visitors’ lead.
Ethan Walker pulled one back for the Lilywhites in a late onslaught on the Stanley goal but it proved to be no more than a consolation effort.
Nick Harrison made 11 changes from the side which beat Blackpool 5-2 last time out and those coming into the side made a strong start. Darren Brannigan had the ball in the net inside five minutes, but his header from Kian Smart’s cross was disallowed for offside.
Neither goalkeeper was truly tested until 25 minutes had passed, when Tom Riley shot straight and Callum Lenton and Harry Garstang did likewise at the other end as Toby Savin held onto his effort.
Waterhouse opened the scoring for Accrington in the 30th minute. He made a strong run to edge of the area before finishing into the bottom right corner with his left foot.
The visitors could have doubled their lead before the break, as Johnjo Morris glanced Joel Mills’ corner just wide of the left-hand post.
It was an open start to the second-half as North End had a couple of chances in attack, Brannigan first showing great movement to collect a Kamol Campbell through ball into the area but shot straight at Savin from a tight angle.
Waterhouse threatened to double his tally at the other end on a couple of occasions, first attempting a chip which failed to trouble Lenton before he poked wide of the bottom right corner one on one from the edge of the box.
Garstang almost equalised for the hosts just before the hour with a powerful free-kick which curled marginally wide of the top right corner.
Campbell also threatened from distance, showing neat footwork to earn the space to shoot, but Savin did well to hold his effort.
In the next attack, Accrington doubled their advantage, in the 73rd minute. O’Neil, who had just come on as a substitute, beat Lenton with a gentle chip in the box after finding space down the left.
Precieux Ngongo headed in from a Harry Garstang cross on the left with five minutes to go, but the linesman’s flag denied North End for a second time.
The hosts did one pull one back shortly after in the 87th minute, though. Tyrhys Dolan rushed down the left flank and played Brannigan into a crossing position, who drilled it across with Ethan Walker lurking as he prodded it into the bottom corner.
PNE dominated those final stages as they looked to rescue a point and they might done so deep into stoppage time when Garstang’s free-kick was headed goalwards, but Savin made another excellent save to seal victory for his team.
Harrison, the youth team manager, said his side didn’t show the same quality in the final third which was evident in last week’s victory over Blackpool.
“I thought we created lots of chances throughout the game,” he told PNE.com. “It’s just the decision making, either in the box or the final third, which wasn’t like it was last week when we scored five goals.
“We had Connor Simpson in the team last week who scored three goals and we had similar kinds of chances today but couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net, and I feel that’s the difference in terms of the quality of the players
“The pitch didn’t allow us to pass it freely, it was a very heavy pitch but we challenged the players to play on that and gave them the tools to do that; we had to play forward quickly and work it off the striker. I think we could have done that better, although we created plenty of chances.”
Harrison took positives from how his players fought to get back into the game but felt his side could have done more to avoid going 2-0 down.
“I’m pleased with the way we finished but disappointed with the two goals we conceded in particular. We should have got something at the end, although I felt we struggled at the start of the second-half where Callum Lenton did well to save us a couple of times.
“Their first goal was a bit of a sucker punch for us. We had a bit of sustained attack in the first-half but didn’t defend the counter attack well enough which is frustrating.
“I felt we were always going to score and we finished strongly but because of the way we conceded the goals, it made it difficult for us to get a positive result out of the game.”
Harrison explained his reasoning for making wholesale changes while looking forward to next week’s Youth Alliance Cup northern semi-final against Wigan Athletic.
“We made the changes simply because a lot of the lads have had a lot of games recently, and with the cup game coming up next week, we felt some of them needed a rest. We also wanted to give others an opportunity, so we were a young side today and had a young back four who are learning.
“It's a semi-final against a very good team. We’ve beat Wigan once this season and they’ve beat us, so it’s even at the moment. We’re all looking forward to that and it’s a challenge for players, they want to get into a final and hopefully go onto win the competition.”
PNE line-up: Lenton; Simmons (Day, 76), Ngongo, Armer, Campbell; Smart (Pollard, 76), Garstang; Wood, Mason (Dolan, 52), Jolly (Walker, 63); Brannigan. Subs not used: Cottam.