Ethan Walker’s brace sealed the youth team’s place in the FA Youth Cup fifth round with a 2-0 win over Oxford United at Deepdale.
The 17-year-old, making his first youth team appearance since returning from a loan spell at Altrincham, netted early in each half – converting a 12th-minute penalty and diverting Lewis Coulton’s cross home ten minutes after the half-time restart.
Walker represented the only change from the youth team’s last game – an emphatic 6-1 win over Walsall nine days previously – as he replaced Aaron Bennett in the line-up.
Officially playing as the away side, PNE saw plenty of possession early on but the most trouble they caused the U’s was a Lewis Coulton corner that Nico Jones headed clear under pressure at the box post.
The Lilywhites continued to dominate the ball but it was Oxford who carved out the first opening, as Tyler Goodrham’s corner caused havoc in the box, with Callum Crook seeing a shot blocked on the line before Jimmy Corcoran smothered his rebound.
Walker saw free-kicks from deep on either flank cleared before his threat grew and, having almost broken into the box seconds earlier.
Oxford improved after going behind, with Walker booked when he broke the wall from a free-kick, and from the subsequent retake Corcoran did well to tip Fabio Lopes’ effort from the edge of the area over the bar.
Walker remained very much involved at both ends, playing a smart corner routine with Tyrhys Dolan which saw him receive the ball in space at a tight angle and blazing the ball over, from what turned out to be an offside position.
Coulton whipped in a corner moments later, from which Walker’s shot was deflected behind for another corner, the delivery this time not properly read by Jacob Holland-Wilkinson who glanced wide unopposed in the centre.
A mazy Walker run on the half hour mark threatened to produce a second goal, but goalkeeper Max Evans tipped over brilliantly, with Lewis Earl’s header from the resulting corner blocked.
Michael Elechi threatened to weave his way through similarly at the other end minutes later, but Tyler Williams stopped him in his tracks with a well-timed tackle.
Defensive intervention was required at the other end just before the break, the pace of the game showing no signs of relenting, as Ben Dooley’s cross looked destined to find Holland-Wilkinson in acres of space, but Viktor Milton’s header proved vital in diverting it clear.
Holland-Wilkinson did get his shot off moments later when fed by Dolan in the box but Evans held onto his effort with relative comfort.
Corcoran’s work was not quite as simple, the Irishman saving well in first half added time on two occasions from Leon Chambers-Parillon.
North End continued in the same vein in the second half and might have had another penalty when Dolan threaded into space down the right for Coulton to chaise, he was pushed to the ground by Jones but his foul proved marginally outside the box.
Walker curled the resulting free-kick wide nonetheless, the goalscorer putting Holand-Wilkinson through to cut onto his right and shoot moments later, with Evans in the Oxford goal palming clear once more.
Nick Harrison’s needed wait barely 30 seconds longer to double their lead, however, with Lewis Coulton’s in-swinging cross from the right picking out Walker’s run through the centre, as he stabbed past Evans for his and the team’s second of the night.
Dolan’s long-range strike stung the palms of Evans just after the hour, while substitute Slavi Spasov fired his free-kick over at the other end, after Earl was booked for a foul.
Chambers-Parillon broke down the left to bear down on goal, albeit from a tight angle, but Corcoran stuck out a leg to save.
There was almost a tense finish when Chambers-Parillon was found in space in the box, but fortunately miscontrolled, and he looked as though he may have caught Corcoran out when getting on the end of a cross, but PNE’s ‘keeper recovered to claim the ball.
Spasov drew Corcoran into more action two minutes from time, the second year scholar saving well and Holland-Wilkinson clearing from the resulting corner.
North End held out well to secure a second consecutive 2-0 win in the FA Youth Cup this term, following last month’s third round victory over Bristol City at Deepdale.
Oxford United U18 line-up: Evans, Johnson, Elechi, Sole, Milton, Jones, Smith (Ferguson, 61), Chambers-Parillon, Crook (Spasov, 61), Goodrham, Lopes. Subs not used: Edwards, Gardner,, Grant, Owens, Niemcycki.
PNE U18 line-up: Corcoran, Dooley (Huddart, 74), McFayden, Nolan, Williams, Earl, Coulton (Bennett, 80), McManus, Holland-Wilkinson, Dolan, Walker. Subs not used: Lombard, Nicholson, Lewis, Leigh, Potts.
Referee: Mr R Massey-Ellis.