Preston North End U19s completed the league and cup double with a 4-1 win over Luton Town in the EFL Youth Alliance Cup final at Kenilworth Road.
Josh Seary, Finlay Cross-Adair, Mikey O’Neill and Aaron Bennett all got their names on the scoresheet in a superb win for the young Lilywhites.
It is the second piece of silverware the U19s have won this season, after they wrapped up the EFL Youth Alliance League title in style with a 8-1 victory over Port Vale a few weeks ago. They also played a key role in the Central League title win throughout the campaign, sealing the vital win against Fleetwood Town in the last game of the season.
It was a very strong side sent out by Nick Harrison with James Pradic between the sticks behind a back three of Kian Taylor, Joe Blanchard and skipper Harry Nevin.
Jacob Slater and Seary were deployed as wing-backs with Noah Mawene, Dana Amaral and Bennett making up the midfield behind the forward line of O’Neill and Cross-Adair.
Despite the eventual comfortable scoreline, it was not a routine affair for North End and they made a nervy start with both sides failing to get a grip on proceedings and chances being few and far between for the opening half an hour.
After that, PNE started to grow into the game and Bennett and Seary each tested the keeper with stinging strikes from the edge of the area on 31 minutes.
Five minutes later, Seary made no mistake when he was picked out by Mawene’s superb cross from the left, after the midfielder was found down the left flank by Slater, and the right wing-back took a touch to compose himself before slammed the ball home.
They had made their pressure count and looked to be heading into half-time 1-0 up but on 42 minutes the Hatters equalised from a corner that North End will be disappointed with defensively.
After the break, the Bedfordshire outfit looked the more likely to score again as they enjoyed a strong spell of pressure, egged on by the home crowd.
However, their failure to create any clear-cut chances cost them on 64 minutes when Nevin played a searching ball over the top which Cross-Adair raced on to and fired past the ‘keeper, restoring North End’s lead.
Thereafter, the Lilywhites never looked back and ruthlessly continued their hunt for more goals.
Their third arrived on 75 minutes with a well-worked move that eventually saw Slater’s cross converted at the back stick by O’Neill, fresh from a ten-minute cameo off the bench during the first team’s visit to Barnsley the previous Saturday.
Two minutes later, Vaughn Green replaced Mawene, who had gone down with a thigh problem moments before O’Neill’s goal.
Within a minute of Green coming on, he had won a free-kick on the edge of the area which Bennett stuck away superbly, completing a resounding 4-1 scoreline.
The match rather fizzled out after that with Luton creating one or two opportunities, each of which was well dealt with by the PNE backline, and soon enough the final whistle was blown, confirming an outstanding double for the young Lilywhites.
After lengthy celebrations and a trophy ceremony in front of the North End supporters who had made the journey to Kenilworth Road, manager Nick Harrison spoke to PNE.Com.
“It’s a massive achievement,” he said. “I thought Luton were a very good side, they’ve got some good players and I think they played well.
“It was a very mixed performance but it’s a cup final. Ultimately, the players never gave up, showed great attitude, and just showed that quality, certainly in the second half, to go and win the game.”
Nick was delighted with the way his side went about carving out their opportunities which resulted in four fantastic goals.
“I thought all the goals were quality and what was good about it was we gave the players some challenges to try and hurt Luton and get in behind them down the sides and they did that.
“You could see we created the chances and scored our goals from that. It was credit to all the team, they never gave up and they showed real quality to score the goals they did.”
After such an impressive season, still with one match to be played in the league against Tranmere Rovers on Saturday, Harrison believes he has a group of players who can go far.
“What a season for the players,” he said. “We’ve certainly got a group who know how to win games and they’ve progressed really well and are developing as players.
“The next level is about winning games, winning trophies, winning promotions and if this group of players can take that into their careers, what they’ve learnt over certainly the last two years and what they’ve achieved this season, then they’ll go a long way.”
PNE line-up: Pradic, Taylor, Slater, Amaral, Nevin (C), Blanchard, Seary, Mawene (Green 77’), Cross-Adair (Nelson 86’), Bennett, O’Neill
Subs not used: Davis, Wallbank, Best