Preston North End U18s were unlucky in defeat, going down 1-0 away at Burnley on a wet and windy morning in East Lancashire.
A penalty from Nathan Lowe, against the run of play, saw the Clarets complete the league double over Nick Harrison’s side, despite North End dominating chances and possession.
The young Lilywhites started the game brighter and nearly made their early dominance count when Adam Thurston flashed a shot wide of the post, following an intricate passing move down the right.
Harrison had given his team instructions to adopt a high tempo, pressing game and a quickly taken free-kick found Brandon Zibaka free in the box, but crucially, Callum Richardson was able to block his shot with Conor Mitchell beaten.
Burnley started to grow into the match and signalled their intent when striker Jamie Frost picked the ball up 25 yards from goal, beat his man and fired a thumping effort down the throat of goalkeeper Steven James.
With 32 minutes on the clock the Clarets edged ahead. A hopeful ball forward from Luke Conlan allowed Khius Metz to run beyond his man into the box and when David Kuba Kuba clipped his heels the referee pointed to the spot.
Nathan Lowe stepped up to break the deadlock from 12 yards, calmly stroking the ball into the bottom right corner beyond the outstretched arm of James.
The goal set back the young Lilywhites and two chances fell to Burnley striker Lewis Nuttall in quick succession.
He fired his first shot wide before hitting a pile-driver that required a top drawer save from James – unsighted he managed to get down low to divert the powerful effort wide before clearing the resulting corner with a solid punch.
The search for a North End equaliser gained momentum in the second half, Joe Whittington flicked the ball forward and Zibaka burst into the box from the left before flashing a shot across the face of goal.
With 30 minutes left on the clock, captain Ryan Croasdale brought the ball inside from the right and threaded it through for influential forward Zibaka, he teed up Josh Brownhill but under-pressure from the Burnley defence, the striker put his shot wide of goal.
Terry Pashley’s side still threatened on the counter-attack and a neat passing move saw 15-year-old Bradley Jackson combine with Cameron Dummigan, before racing towards the back post to meet the resulting cross, firing into the side netting from six yards.
A late flurry of chances for Preston started with a move down the left involving the impressive Croasdale that produced a fingertip save from goalkeeper Mitchell, after Zibaka got a shot away in the box.
North End’s constant pressure saw Burnley sinking further into their own half and Brownhill went close with a long range effort when he latched onto a misplaced pass and skipped past two players, driving his shot inches wide of Mitchell’s left hand post.
With time running out substitute Sam Livesey raced into the box and beat the keeper, only to see the ball rebound off the far post and away.
Speaking to PNE.com after the game, U18 coach Andy Fensome was in a reflective mood, insisting there were positives to be taken from the defeat.
“I don’t feel it was a poor performance, I actually think it was quite good at times. What we are disappointed about is the fact that we’ve conceded another goal and we don’t like conceding goals.
“We’re not taking our chances at the moment, but maybe that’s just something that happens from time to time.
“I felt Burnley defended very well, making one or two last ditch tackles, but the boys will have to overcome it because they need to start putting the ball in the net.”
Looking forward, Fensome added: “The boys will keep playing football. At times today we created some good opportunities, but just couldn’t hit the back of the net, but the lads have been excellent.
“They’ve had a good tempo to their training and we’ll go out and fight next week and wait for the Wrexham game to come around.”