A clinical display by the Preston North End U18s saw them open the new 2012/13 season with a fantastic 5-1 victory over local rivals Blackpool.
Goals from Ryan Croasdale, Brendon Zibaka, Jack Ryan and two from Matt Greenwood ensured that last season’s opening fixture loss to Blackpool had been rectified in the most rampant of fashions.
Graham Alexander stressed the importance of ‘team ethic’ prior to the game, and will no doubt be impressed by a display that exhibited an abundance of togetherness from the players.
The game started combatively as both teams attempted to get a hold of the game. The first chance came after five minutes when a dangerous cross from Greenwood saw the lively Zibaka have a shot blocked at his feet by the Blackpool No.1.
The Lilywhites slowly grew into the game and began to work the ball well across the midfield. Striker and captain Zibaka continued to pose a threat to Blackpool’s defence and almost opened the scoring after some fine dribbling, but his shot was forced wide after strong defending by Blackpool’s Ramore Blackett.
North End pressurised Blackpool’s over-worked midfield, limiting the Tangerine’s youngsters to hopeful long shots. However, it took some quick-thinking from Preston’s Ben Davies with a last ditch challenge on Blackpool’s Ade Cole to rescue the Lilywhites from going one behind.
With both teams seemingly deadlocked, it took some neat play from the Preston midfield to finally create an open chance midway through the first half. The ever-dangerous Greenwood played a through ball to Zibaka who sharply crossed low for Croasdale, who finished with finesse.
Blackpool, evidently disappointed at going behind after missing a chance of their own, attempted to get straight back in the game. However, Preston’s composed defence staunchly kept them at bay, frustrating the Tangerines.
With half-time fast approaching, the Lilywhites then turned on the style. With Blackpool desperately attacking, Preston broke free with a quick a counter attack that saw Zibaka nutmeg Blackett near the half way line, and then run through on goal to slot the ball calmly in the bottom corner.
North End weren’t finished though. On the stroke of half time they made it 3-0, though this time Zibaka was the assister by playing an accurate ball from the half way line to Greenwood who curled a wonderful shot into the top corner from 18 yards out to round off a commendable first half display.
Within a minute of kick-off, Blackpool stormed the Lilywhites backline, with Charles Dion finishing coolly from close range to give the Tangerines hope.
Blackpool, buoyed by their excellent start, forced PNE to defend deep. However, the hosts held their ground and blunted Blackpool’s brief rejuvenation.
It wasn’t long until Preston were back to creating chances. Zibaka again was prominent, forcing Blackpool’s keeper into spilling the ball to Greenwood, only for the youngster to shoot narrowly wide.
The Lilywhites continued to dominate, with Davies hitting the post after a fine header. Then, following a troublesome corner from Adam Thurston, Joe Whittington saw his header saved by the Blackpool ‘keeper – though that wasn’t without controversy over whether the ball had already crossed the line.
The youngsters survived one more scare, with Blackpool hitting the post themselves, before they effectively sealed the win with 15 minutes to go. Substitute Jack Ryan beat the offside shouts and thumped the ball comprehensively into the back of the net.
However, Preston weren’t finished. With ten minutes left, Greenwood capitalised on a mistake by Blackpool’s keeper, who had already suffered a torrid afternoon, to make it 5-1 to Preston to cap off a perfect start to the season.
Speaking after the win, head of youth Graham Alexander felt there was still more to come from his squad: “I think we could have done better. But I don’t want to take the gloss off a 5-1 win against your local rivals on the first day of the season.
“I have told the lads that I think we can improve a lot, but I’ll give them lee-way as it’s the first game of the season against our biggest rivals, but I know inside that they can do a lot better and the lads know that as well, which a good sign of their professionalism.”
Alexander is a staunch believer that the score-line is secondary to the performance, and felt there were positives to take away: “The players can always improve on everything; I don’t think they used their intelligence enough during the game,” he continued. “But we have beaten Blackpool convincingly with some good goals and there is definitely some quality in there to work with.
“We are trying to play a certain way and get the most out of the lads here and their natural talents. There were some good performances and some not so good, but we have to have the highest standards possible to succeed.
“There is always a need for good team ethic, no individual wins a game. However, there is an individual aspect to it as they are all out there to earn contracts – but they must prove they can work as a team to get there.
“This season we want to instil good standards in the lads and a winning mentality. It’s important that you have the winning mentality for every game – but the result is secondary to the performance for these lads who want to develop and become professionals and push themselves as individuals.”