Preston North End U18s were made to rue missed chances after a 1-0 defeat to Sheffield Wednesday saw them exit the FA Youth Cup.
The Owls scored the only goal of the game on 40 minutes directly from a corner that ‘keeper James Pradic was unable to punch to safety.
By that point, North End had already spurned two golden opportunities to take the lead and were frustrated in their attempts to find an equaliser in the second half.
Nick Harrison’s side had been flying in the league, coming off the back of a 4-0 demolition of Fleetwood Town at the weekend.
It was an almost entirely different side that started at Hillsborough with Pradic starting between the sticks, with a back three of Teddy Mfuni, Harry Nevin and Joe Blanchard ahead of him, while Josh Seary, Mikey O’Neill, Lewis Leigh, Noah Mawene and Jacob Slater made up the midfield, behind a forward pairing of Finlay Cross-Adair and Vaughn Green.
It was a scrappy start to the match with both sides failing to find a rhythm in front of the watching South Yorkshire crowd.
Each team tested the opposing goalkeepers with speculative shots around the 15 minute mark before PNE created one of their best chances of the match.
Cross-Adair was fed down the right flank and took on his man, before firing the ball across the goal where O’Neill was there to connect but the attacking midfielder shot wide of the post.
They carved out a similar opportunity 12 minutes later, only this time it was Cross-Adair’s turn to drag the strike wide from close range.
Those misses came back to bite the Lilywhites when five minutes before half-time, Pradic was caught out by the corner from the left and Wednesday were in front against the run of the play.
North End looked set to continue to be on top early in the second half when Seary fired over the bar from the right side on 53 minutes.
But the Owls began to create chances themselves with striker Bailey Cadamarteri coming close with a shot that just went wide five minutes after Seary’s effort.
On 66 minutes, O’Neill broke free of the Wednesday backline but was pushed wide by the defender and it was a routine stop in the end for the ‘keeper. Cadamarteri then forced a more difficult save out of Pradic three minutes later with a powerful strike inside the area.
Still searching for a leveller, PNE made their only sub of the evening on 81 minutes when Dana Amaral replaced Green, and O’Neill was pushed further forward.
North End almost secured the equaliser in the dying embers when Nevin’s downwards header from a corner prompted a goalmouth scramble, but the hosts were able to clear their lines and eventually held on for the win.
It had been a frustrating encounter for Nick Harrison’s side who were justified in feeling a little hard done-by, but they can now turn their focus back on to their league title charge.
PNE line-up: Pradic, Mfuni, Slater, Leigh, Nevin (C), Blanchard, Seary, Mawene, Cross-Adair, O’Neill, Green (Amaral 81')
Unused subs: Duggan, Best, Wallbank, Taylor, Pemberton, Nelson