The youth team put in a controlled and disciplined performance to earn a 1-0 away win at Notts County in the Youth Alliance Cup, ensuring they remain unbeaten on the road this season.
Lewis Fensome’s 33rd minute strike proved to be the difference between the sides in a tight affair, although North End deservedly edged it given the chances they created.
Donning the yellow away strip, the visitors had plenty of possession in the opposition half early on, and might have gone ahead just four minutes in but for goalkeeper Max Culverwell’s fine save to deny Mike Howard, who had drove into space and fired at goal down the left.
Callum Roberts collected a menacing through pass into his area shortly after at the other end, but he could have done little about Remaye Campbell’s free-kick after 19 minutes as it cannoned off the crossbar and went over for a goal kick.
Those proved to be a rare first-half opportunity for County, though, and North End followed up that free-kick by providing a sign of things to come. Josh Pollard’s corner was well controlled by Tom Stead on the left, who stood it up to the back post for Oscar O’Neil to head marginally wide.
Only ten minutes later and just after the half hour, PNE again threatened from a corner and this time took the lead. Pollard’s delivery was only cleared as far as Fensome ten yards from goal and the skipper struck an emphatic first time effort on the half volley for the opener.
The lead might have been doubled only four minutes later after Tyrhys Dolan’s surging run culminated in a perfectly weighted through ball for Harry Garstang into the area, the forward denied by a great reaction save from the ‘keeper.
A higher intensity was on show from both teams early in the second-half when Campbell headed straight at goal for the hosts, while Dolan did likewise with a low shot at the other end for PNE while Garstang volleyed wide from a dangerous Cameron Day cross.
Just after the hour, Roberts saved superbly from Campbell’s 20-yard whipped effort before Smart’s curling strike was tipped wide at the other end after Dolan and Howard combined on the counter.
But the contest began to quieten down, in terms of scoring opportunities, at least, as County took greater control of possession in the final 20 minutes or so.
The Lilywhites defended resolutely, however, the hosts going closest through an acrobatic Campbell volley on 70 minutes which cleared the crossbar.
Again, PNE might have added a second on 79 minutes when Day produced another quality delivery from wide, hooking Dolan’s corner back into the box, with substitute Myles Mason the man thwarted by Culverwell on this occasion having headed towards goal from a few yards out.
County continued to press but were kept in check by North End’s solid defence, the visitors themselves having the most meaningful effort late on as Mason’s shot from 18 yards was deflected into Culverwell’s path with stoppage time approaching.
Despite the hosts’ continued attempts to grab an equaliser, the Lilywhites held firm for their 1-0 win – making it four wins and a draw from their first five away games of the new season.
Youth team manager Nick Harrison said it was an important victory for the young Lilywhites, who now have four points from their opening two games in their Youth Alliance cup group with matches against Accrington Stanley and Lincoln City still to come.
“It’s obviously great to win the game, I thought we played well in patches,” he told PNE.com. “At times, we were a little bit sloppy with our decision making, but overall, we’re pleased to win because it’s a cup game and in terms of our cup group, we needed to get the three points today.
“That was the objective [to win the game]. We set out all week to do that because it’s a cup game and we’ve got to learn win games in the cup, so that was the objective and the players have done really well to achieve that today.”
Centre-back, Fensome, was the goalscorer but Harrison reserved praise for both the captain and his defensive partner, Tom Stead, for their efforts at the back.
“After the first 20 minutes or so, I thought our two centre-backs dealt with their two forwards really well. We played quite aggressively in attack which sometimes left us two versus two at the back. But I felt once we dealt with that, we looked quite comfortable.
“We had two or three chances which we should have taken in the first-half which would have taken the pressure off in the second.
“I thought the lads showed great character again to dig in and win 1-0. It’s another clean sheet and we’ve come a long way from home to win the game.
“It’s been a great experience for the boys today. This is probably the furthest we have come for an away game, so it’s a brilliant to come this distance and keep a clean sheet and to score a goal to win the game. We’re really pleased we’ve come away with the three points.”
PNE line-up: Roberts; Day, Fensome, Stead, Campbell; Smart, Pollard (Mason, 64), O’Neil, Howard; Dolan, Garstang. Subs not used: Simmons, Cottam, Jolly, Brannigan.