Preston North End U19s recorded a comfortable 3-1 victory over Fleetwood Town thanks to a blistering start to the match.
Two superb strikes from Finlay Cross-Adair and Mikey O’Neill saw the Lilywhites 2-0 up after just four minutes.
O’Neill added another in the 39th minute before a controversial penalty awarded to the visitors a minute before the end robbed the Lilywhites of a well-deserved clean sheet.
There were five changes made to the side that won 4-1 at Rochdale the week before with James Pradic replacing Tommy Davis in goal as well as Cross-Adair, Finlay Wallbank, Kian Best and Jacob Slater coming in for Dana Amaral, Theo Mawene, Cole McGhee and Rio Pemberton.
Keen not to waste any time, North End were ahead within 30 seconds of kick-off when Cross-Adair received the ball from Kitt Nelson on the edge of the area and thumped an effort into the back of the net.
Just three minutes later, it was 2-0 when O’Neill drove at the heart of the Fleetwood defence and curled a strike home from 20 yards out.
PNE looked to extend their early lead even further and two minutes after his goal, O’Neill slid Nelson in who tried to beat the keeper at the near post from a tight angle but he fired over.
Then in the ninth minute, a free-flowing move came to an end with O’Neill receiving the ball in the area but he failed to make a solid connection with the strike.
O’Neill almost turned provider again on 13 minutes when he was found in the middle of the park and played in Ethan Eccleston on the right flank but his low effort was saved by the Fleetwood goalie.
In the 21st minute, the skipper Lewis Leigh looked to get in on the action when he received it on the edge of the area and hit a shot which looked destined for the bottom corner but the ‘keeper managed to get a hand to it.
Moments later, Eccleston made another of his surging runs in from the right and was spotted by Nelson who played him in and the wing-back’s effort clipped the outside of the far post.
Six minutes before half-time, O’Neill grabbed his second and North End’s third after being played in by Nelson and beating the keeper at the near post.
The Fleetwood players will have been relieved to finally hear the half-time whistle sound after spending the first 45 minutes being toyed with by a PNE side brimming with confidence and they carried on in the same vein after the break.
Ten minutes into the second period, Eccleston, whose endless running up and down the right side all morning deserved a goal, had another shooting chance when he burst into the middle, played a one-two with O’Neill before hitting a weak effort into the hands of the Fleetwood goalie.
He was replaced on 71 minutes by Pemberton, seven minutes before McGhee had come on for Wallbank.
Pemberton got involved immediately when he drove down the right and fizzed in a cross which ricocheted to Nelson and he laid it off for Leigh whose effort was just too high.
Seven minutes from time, Kaedyn Kamara and Ellis Horan replaced Noah Mawene and Leigh respectively as the young Lilywhites looked to see out a routine win.
They were robbed of a clean sheet right at the death however when Kian Taylor was judged to have illegally prevented the Fleetwood forward getting a shot away after being played in and Dominic Richmond made no mistake from the spot.
It was an unfortunate blemish on an otherwise outstanding morning’s work from the U19s, who could and should have won by a bigger margin.
Speaking to PNE.Com, coach Andy Fensome was full of praise for a relentless first-half performance from his side.
“I thought we were absolutely brilliant in the first half,” he said.
“The counter-pressing that we put in place, the way that we won the ball back and being on the front foot and passing forward was all great.
“Some of the passing patterns gave us the opportunity to express ourselves and we created chance after chance after chance and it could have been so much more.”
Fensome also reflected on how his side were unable to build on their lead after the interval.
He said: “They’re a team that are top of the league who had obviously had a talking to at half-time and they played a bit differently in the second half, but we still had chances.
“It was down to our players not to slip into complacency at any point and it was clear they wanted to win the ball back and were up for the game which is massive.
“Yes we didn’t score but I thought up until the last couple of minutes, we were doing most things right.”
He was delighted with the performance of Eccleston who is currently learning a new position and whose performance against Fleetwood included everything but a goal.
“Ethan’s a young lad who’s building his strength every day in training,” said Fensome.
“He was bursting forward with that raw pace and could have had two in the first 20 minutes as well as also creating chances for others.
“He had a really good performance today but there were a lot of good players out there on that pitch and the whole team were fantastic.”
PNE line-up: Pradic, Wallbank (McGhee 64’), Slater, Leigh (C) (Horan 83’), Taylor, Best, Eccleston (Pemberton 71’), Mawene (Kamara 83’), Cross-Adair, Nelson, O’Neill
Subs not used: Stowell