North End U18’s maintained their unbeaten start to 2013, but failed to make is six league wins in a row, despite Jack Sowerby continuing his impressive run in front of goal.
The young Lilywhites were held to a draw by Macclesfield Town, but will be disappointed not to have won the game, as the Silkmen’s young keeper proved the hero, saving a penalty to give the Cheshire side a point against the league leaders.
For the first 20 minutes, the game was contested aerially. The only clear cut chance in this period came as a result of an intelligent free-kick from Jack Sowerby, which was narrowly headed wide by Brandon Zibaka.
The Lilywhites began to impose their passing football on Macclesfield as the half continued. Adam Thurston and Ryan Croasdale in particular were pulling the strings.
They sustained a threat from set-pieces as the half went on. Thurston took an intelligent, quick free-kick, which Nick Anderton headed on target, but straight at the keeper.
After two dangerous corner-kicks whipped in by Sowerby, which threatened Macclesfield’s goal, North End began to fashion a few late chances from open play.
This started on the 25th minute, as Joe Whittington took a gamble to come in from his touchline and thread an accurate through ball into the path of Sowerby who managed a shot on target, despite being closed down ferociously by the Macclesfield Town defence.
Whittington grew in confidence directly after this move. He threatened soon after, coming in from the touchline once more to hammer a shot from distance narrowly wide.
On the opposite flank, Josh Amis also began to influence in an attacking sense. Clever play from Croasdale opened space for Zibaka to deliver an inviting cross towards Amis, who did well to force another corner.
The half ended in a positive sense for Macclesfield, who were really being dominated by Preston at this point. This resulted in a brief period of authority in possession, which culminated in a dragged shot that was never going to trouble Steven James in the Preston net.
Brandon Zibaka set the tone for the second half with an increased enthusiasm and energy, which seemed to rub off on all of his team-mates.
For the first ten minutes of the half, it was clear that Zibaka was North End’s most likely route to the opening goal. Macclesfield were warned of his pace as he stretched the legs of the defence for the first time, making a crafty run into the left channel and forcing a smart save from the opposing keeper.
Perseverance and a touch of class, would eventually lead to Preston’s opener. As Macclesfield were bickering at the award of a North End free-kick, the Lilywhites would take it quickly. Sowerby was first to receive the short pass, he then exchanged a beautiful one-two with Zibaka and showed composure to slot home confidently on the hour mark.
Sowerby played in the ‘No.10’ role. He was assigned to operate just behind the main centre forward. This was the first time in the game he broke beyond Zibaka, and to great effect.
The opening goal ignited an exciting period of the game. The young Lilywhites continued to probe, in search of a second strike that would surely kill the tie off.
Two minutes after assisting Sowerby’s opener, Zibaka was trying to find space to shoot in the opposition penalty area before being hauled down, earning his side the opportunity to double their advantage from the spot.
Zibaka took it upon himself to step up and take the penalty-kick that he had worked for. Unfortunately, his attempt was saved due to a fantastic display of athleticism from the Macclesfield goalkeeper. Zibaka took a good penalty, hard and low to the keeper’s right. However, his effort was well and truly matched.
The saved penalty gave the hosts a lifeline they so desperately needed. This was reflective in their play, as they began to exert more pressure on Preston.
In the end, a goal mouth scramble was the source of success in Macclesfield’s search for an equaliser. The ball would eventually brake to their right back, who poked the ball in on 74 minutes.
Despite conceding late on and dropping two valuable points, North End can be proud of their display. It may be seen as a point gained by the end of the campaign, as the draw keeps them top of the league.
After the game, Academy manager Nick Harrison was upbeat, despite the scoreline. He told PNE.Com he was very proud of his players, but did not believe a draw was a fair reflection of the match.
“I think we performed very well,” he told the official website. “Although the first 20 minutes of the game were very even, we really imposed ourselves on the game after that.
“Our lads were brilliant out there today. They played some really nice football at times, against a very physical side. We were very unlucky today to not come away with the win and all three points.”