Preston North End’s U18s were held to a 1-1 draw with Carlisle United on a frustrating afternoon for the youngsters.
North End winger Joe Whittington had opened the scoring with just eight minutes left to play but Carlisle snatched a draw at the death through forward Jason Blackburn.
It was a scrappy affair and chances were hard to come by with both sides struggling to create any sort of opening throughout the 90 minutes.
It was Whittington though who looked like he had won the game for his side, his shot taking a big deflection and finding the bottom corner.
Carlisle who rarely looked like scoring took the one clear chance they were given.
Blackburn ran free of the Preston backline and applied a cool finish to steal a point.
Both sides were looking to bounce back from defeat in their previous games and the caution in their play was therefore understandable.
North End’s energy was matched by Carlisle whose height and power ensured Preston’s attacking threat was tamed.
It was the visitors who had the first shot of the game after 15 minutes.
United winger Danny Hodgson cut in from the right and hit a shot wide of Ross Dalton’s post.
Josh Sampson had Preston’s best chance of the half.
Whittington won a free kick with a burst of pace, and his resulting delivery was met by Sampson who climbed above everyone but couldn’t direct his header goalwards.
Preston began to get into some positive attacking positions but just couldn’t quite break through the opposition’s backline.
Carlisle’s admirable defensive efforts were summed up on the half hour mark.
George Gray crossed from out wide and Whittington got in front of United’s James Scott, but the defender blocked firstly Whittington’s glancing header before jumping back up and thwarting Jack Ryan’s efforts.
Preston’s frustrations were summed up when captain Josh Brownhill jinked his way brilliantly around two defenders but saw his through ball just a yard or two too long for Ryan’s run.
Carlisle had the last say of the half however and went close on a couple of occasions.
Bradley Roscoe produced a brilliant clearance to prevent Hodgson from a simple tap in.
Then Hodgson tried to sneak in at the back post and meet a deep in swinging corner but the winger could only poke the ball on to the post.
On the other side of half-time Carlisle’s Tom White hit a low free kick from the left which somehow evaded everyone and the game remained goalless.
Preston’s Nick Anderton then provided a teasing delivery of his own.
The full back drove past several Carlisle players before swinging in a ball which was just too high for Ryan but found George Gray who shot just wide.
North End’s midfield of Sean Holmes, Jordan Scott and skipper Brownhill were given limited opportunity to create from the centre of the park with the visitors often crowding out the trio.
But Brownhill did trouble the visitors through his wicked set piece deliveries.
And, it was the skipper whose corner nearly helped open the scoring.
His cross found Sampson who, similarly to his first half header, couldn’t quite glance the ball on target to test opposition goalkeeper Lewis Brass.
United created some chances of their own, substitute Aaron Bradbury’s cross went just wide of the post and Jack Blackburn couldn’t keep his header down as Dalton stayed largely untroubled in the Preston goal.
North End were forced into shots from distance with Anderton, Gray and Sam Livesey all unable to trouble Brass in the Carlisle goal.
But with 82 minutes gone Whittington finally broke the deadlock. The winger got the goal his play deserved and with a bit of luck, too.
Livesey did well in the build up before shifting the ball onto Whittington who took one touch and hit a shot which took a deflection, wrong footing Brass, and finding the bottom corner.
It seemed North End were going to have battled their way to three points.
But, Carlisle forward Jason Blackburn had other ideas.
The powerful frontman evaded the offside trap and raced onto Frankie Wallace’s through ball.
Blackburn kept his composure and slipped the ball under the advancing Dalton into the bottom corner earning his team a draw.
Nick Harrison was understandably disappointed with the late goal and admitted his side hadn’t done enough to win the game.
He said: “It was a frustrating afternoon and a poor game to be honest and we didn’t really play too well but neither did they.”
Harrison added that the youngsters will learn from conceding so late on, saying, “Of course they’ll learn from today.
"They’ll learn that we need to keep the ball better and defend better to see a game out.”
U18s defender Brad Roscoe was in agreement with his manager: “I’m always disappointed when we don’t keep a clean sheet and to concede so late on was also disappointing.”
The young centre half was one of several stand out performers in last week’s valiant Premier League U21 Cup defeat to Hull City at Deepdale and believes the experience has helped him.
Roscoe said: “It was a brilliant experience and I know I need to keep working hard to make sure it happens again.”
Preston starting XI – Dalton, Gray, Sampson, Roscoe, Anderton, Scott, Holmes (Wicks), Brownhill, Livesey, Ryan (Magolis), Whittington.
Substitutes not used – Forbes, Hudson, Hagon.
Booked – Gray
Carlisle United starting XI – Brass, Chrisholm, Marshall, Wallace, Scott, Douglas, Hodgson (Bradbury), Hammell, Blackburn, White, Elliot.
Substitutes not used – Dixon, Eccles.