Preston North End’s U18s held strong to overcome a resilient Accrington Stanley with a 4-2 win at the Crown Ground
But as Stanley threw men forward in search of a third, they were being left exposed at the back and PNE scored their fourth with another clinical counter attack.
With renewed hope and belief, Stanley threw caution to the wind in search of an equaliser and put the PNE defence under pressure but North End defended valiantly and overcome the Accrington storm with a number of courageous blocks and clearances.
And the hosts second goal soon followed when substitute Connor Mahoney floated in a perfect left footed delivery and Dalian Barker rose well to flick the ball in to the far corner to make it 3-2 and set up a frantic finale.
Big striker James Jenkins reduced the arrears with half an hour to play when he fired home a rebound after Tom Quinn’s initial save from Ben Proctor.
The visitors now had a firm stranglehold on the game but Stanley fought back to find their way back into the game at the Crown Ground.
It went from bad to worse for the home side when PNE made it 3-0 on 53 minutes. Zibaka was again heavily involved, deftly controlling a high ball and rounding a defender with one delightful touch; his pace took him away from Greaves this time and gave him the chance to cap a superb individual performance with a goal. Wolland did well TO save but ball fall kindly to striker Amis who stroked the ball into the unguarded net.
But the visitors only had to wait another four minutes before doubling their lead with a swift counter attack. After breaking up a Stanley move, Greenwood picked out Brownhill with a superb slide rule pass who finished clinically, low and hard across Wolland from just inside the area.
PNE began the second half well and a long ball over saw Zibaka burst round the back of the Stanley defence. After rounding Wolland the striker had the goal at his mercy but was denied by another superb intervention from Greaves who slid in to divert his low attempt wide of the post.
The pace of Zibaka and Forbes continued to threaten for North End but stand in Stanley skipper Jason Jeffries marshalled the defence to keep the home side in the game at half time.
Stanley responded to the set back and very nearly equalised immediately. James Doig, who arguably carried the biggest threat for Stanley in the first half, whipped in an in swinging delivery which found Greaves perfectly at the back post but he was unlucky to see his header drop just over the bar.
Zibaka’s pace and movement was causing problems but the Stanley back four, Luke Greaves in particular, dealt with the threat well. But the pressure on Wolland’s goal continued to increase and on 23 minutes North End made the break through, inevitably with a set piece. Another pinpoint Forbes delivery found tall centre back Davies and he made no mistake six yards from goal, rising well to head low into the bottom corner.
Two dangerous PNE deliveries from Matt Greenwood and Tyler Forbes just needed a touch to open the scoring but the lively Brandon Zibaka was inches away from connecting on both occasions.
In a first half that was lacking clear cut chances; a set piece delivery looked most likely to be the cause of the first goal.
A fluid Preston side, brimming with confidence after scoring 11 goals in their last three games, started on the front foot but Stanley dug in well to keep them at bay.
Thankfully Jack Ryan was in the right place at the right time to score a crucial fourth goal for Graham Alexander’s men to seal a deserved three points.
League champions North End led 3-0 thanks to goals from Ben Davies, Josh Brownhill and Josh Amis but goals from Stanley’s Jason Jeffries and Dalian Barker set up a nail biting climax.