Preston North End U18s lost 4-3 to neighbours Fleetwood Town in the Youth Alliance Cup.Despite leaving a prestigious cup competition, the young Lilywhites can take heart from a fine attacking display, with Zibaka’s superbly taken brace the highlight of a pulsating encounter.
North End continued to push for the equaliser but it seemed time was against them. Skipper Croasdale shot wide from the edge of the box before Ryan looked to set to send the tie to extra-time. The first year scholar showed great strength to create a shooting opportunity in the Fleetwood box but was denied by a superb point-blank save.
In an attempt to bring the game level Alexander brought on young striker Jack Ryan for the energetic David Kuba Kuba, the latter almost pulling North End level from a corner before being substituted, but he shot just over after a neat swivel in the Fleetwood box.
With 70 minutes on the clock Fleetwood took the lead though. Parker whipped a right footed free kick from the left channel into the heart of the Preston box. The ball ricocheted off ‘keeper James and then off a Preston defender before agonisingly rolling over the line in what proved to be the decisive blow.
With both sides desperate not to concede a fourth, chances dried up - although North End continued to dominate possession.
Fleetwood refused to lie down and showed great character to pull themselves back level within three minutes of Zibaka’s second. Jamie Allen fired in with his left foot after North End failed to block a cross from the left channel.
Preston came out of the traps the sharper of the two sides and found themselves 3-2 up within five minutes of the kick-off. Zibaka finishing expertly on the half-volley after left-back Nick Anderton whipped in a teasing low ball from the left.
Alexander’s side were desperately unlucky not to have turned around the two goal deficit before the break. Joshua Brownhill did magnificently well to muscle through two Fleetwood defenders before squaring to Livesey who thought he had his second. It wasn’t to be though as the referee bizarrely pulled play back for a North End free kick.
Zibaka finally got his goal and North End’s equaliser just before the break, collecting Croasdale’s through ball before coolly rounding the Fleetwood stopper and slotting home.
As half-time dawned Preston continued to threaten, Zibaka shot wide before being denied by a superb point blank save, and Livesey almost had his second but a glancing header dropped agonisingly wide.
The Lilywhites tails were up, Matt Greenwood sent in a teasing ball from the left that Fleetwood stopper Olly James failed to deal with, but after a brief spell a ping pong in the box, the ball fell kindly into the ‘keeper’s arms.
And it was Livesey who gave Preston the breakthrough they deserved, latching onto a through ball, beating his full back and slamming home with his right foot from 15 yards.
The two goal deficit gave the wake-up call Alexander’s men needed; Skipper Ryan Croasdale and winger Sam Livesey both looked dangerous as North End began to threaten.
In the 18th minute the Cod Army extended their lead. Centre-half Davies was caught on the ball by Fleetwood right back Landrey Opalande who advanced into the Preston box before squaring to Parker - who got his second of the game in almost identical fashion.
Moments later North End were a goal down, Fleetwood’s Jamie Allen beat James to a long through ball before squaring to Jake Parker who tapped into an empty net.
As both teams settled chances were created, North End centre half Ben Davies heading over from six yards before Preston ‘keeper Steven James made a smart stop at his near post to keep the scores level.
On a crisp and bitterly cold Lancashire morning, both sides showed desire to win with a series of hard but fair challenges exchanged early on.
Two cool Brandon Zibaka goals along with Sam Livesey’s fine individual effort were ultimately not enough for the young Lilywhites to progress despite North End creating a number of goal scoring opportunities.