Jack Baxter played a starring role as the U18s comfortably beat Accrington Stanley U18s 3-0.
A penalty in each half gave Baxter two on the day, with Charlie Lyons adding a third late in the game.
Although North End were the stronger side, they couldn’t create too many chances in the opening exchanges.
It would be 35 minutes before a real chance came the Lilywhites’ way. After swapping wings with Jerome Jolly, Ethan Walker was down the right and it was his work that won a PNE corner. The former’s cross was met by Precioux Ngongo whose downward header was just off target.
Then came the breakthrough, Adam O’Reilly carried the ball forward after winning it back high up the pitch before sliding a pass through to Jerome Jolly, who was felled by the Accrington full back in the box and the referee pointed to the spot.
Jack Baxter stepped up but his side footed strike was saved, initially, before the midfielder followed up and made up for his error, just a minute before the interval to give PNE the lead.
The second half was a more open affair, with PNE enjoying more expansive possession, mainly through the two central midfielders.
Both teams were playing more attacking and that also led to counter attacks – O’Reilly bursting forward for North End, being brought down, forcing a booking in the 53rd minute.
At the other end, just two minutes later, Accrington had a counter of their own; Lewis Simmons was up against two Stanley forwards. The right back bided his time and committed a perfect slide tackle to stop the attack.
Just after the hour North End began a flurry of chances, with Brian McManus laying off Jerome Jolly. Jolly’s first time effort was bobbling towards the far corner but the Stanley stopper was able to get down to turn it around the post.
In the 63rd minute PNE found the net, but Potts finish was ruled out for offside.Adam O’Reilly won the ball in midfield and drove forward, he entered the penalty area and his low effort from right to left was saved – into the path of Potts who was adjudged offside.
The visiting ‘keeper was in action again in 70th minute, Jack Armer pushed forward down the left and his cross was deflected as it reached the six-yard box. It forced a good reflex save and Potts’ follow up header was blocked by a covering defender.
PNE and Jack Baxter would have their second goals of the day soon after though, in the 73rd minute, with Louis Potts to thank for his part in creating it.
Accrington pushed forward trying to find a way back into the game and O’Reilly’s excellent interception and pass went straight to the No.9’s feet. Potts then rolled his man and ran from the edge of his own half into the Stanley box before being brought down rounding the ‘keeper.
Baxter stepped up again and made no mistake this time, confidently powering his effort into the bottom right corner, sending the Stanley ‘keeper the wrong way.
It was an excellent display from the whole team, and it was a defender’s turn to make an impact at the top end of the pitch just three minutes from time.
To add to a clean sheet, Charlie Lyons rose well to meet Ethan Walker’s free kick and nod the ball into the back of the net to seal the win for the Lilywhites.
Academy manager Nick Harrison was pleased with the nature of the performance but still believes there is room to improve for his side.
Speaking to PNE.Com after the game, Nick said: “It’s always good to win games and it’s always good to keep a clean sheet. From that perspective it’s fantastic.
“I didn’t think we played to our best. They made it difficult for us by putting lots of bodies behind the ball but we knew that anyway.
“I’m delighted we scored three goals, we should have had more, that’s the frustration but they’re young players. I’m pleased they showed great character throughout the game to go on and win the game.
“As the game went on we did get better and, really, we could have had another three goals in the second half.
“That came from scoring the first goal. It was good timing, just before half-time, and I felt that we looked a lot better in terms of how we passed the ball, the movement looked a lot more threatening. We started to open up a bit more which then created more chances.”
It came down to a few individual moments to make the difference for PNE, with Jack Baxter scoring twice from the spot – after excellent work from Jolly and Potts to win them – and Charlie Lyons meeting Walker’s inviting free kick.
Despite seeing his first penalty saved, Baxter scored the rebound and confidently dispatched his second, which pleased Harrison.
“Jack’s got an abundance of ability and technique and that’s why he’s on penalties. He does well on them in training and it was a brilliant reaction from him to score the first one - in terms of not being disappointed it’s saved. The second one just shows you what Jack Baxter can do in terms of his finishing.
“I thought our crosses, because we thought we’d get a lot of chances from wide areas today, which was proven, the deliveries were just the wrong type of deliveries.
“Their ‘keeper was over 6 foot and I thought our type of delivery was wrong because we played into his hands.
“It was a fantastic delivery for the third goal, Charlie did well to get on the end of it. It was a really good header and he needs to do that more.”
Looking ahead to their next game, the U18s face Huddersfield in the EFL Youth Alliance Cup next week, a challenge and format the manager is relishing.
“The last time we played Huddersfield was in a pre-season game a year ago, which was an U17 game, but we very rarely play Huddersfield.
“It’s a cup game, which will be good, I think it will be a really good test for us. They’ve got really good players and it’s one that we’re all looking forward to and the players should be as well.
“Hopefully we can continue with scoring the goals we are, creating the chances and keeping the clean sheets where we can.”