A Josh Brownhill brace gave Preston North End’s youth team a 2-0 win over Tranmere Rovers.
The U18s’ skipper broke the deadlock on the hour mark, his curling effort taking a slight deflection before sailing into the top corner.
His second goal was all his own work however, beating the defender and then sending a fierce low shot across the keeper into the bottom corner, for his sixth goal in four games.
The win gives North End back to back wins, and the youngsters looked buoyed by last weekend’s win over Port Vale, playing with confidence throughout.
North End started vibrantly, matching Tranmere’s aggression before finally settling into the game.
Joe Whittington had the first chance of the half for Preston, firing a volley just wide. Forward Lyle Magolis went close soon after.
He linked up brilliantly with Brownhill, exchanging passes deep inside the Rovers half before his effort from a tight angle was cleared off the line by Tranmere centre half Jake Philips.
Full back George Gray was instrumental in most of his side’s attacking play in the opening 45 minutes.
Gray’s marauding runs from deep and teasing deliveries from out wide nearly found the game’s opening goal on more than one occasion.
The Irish defender picked out Brownhill with a deep in swinging cross, who in turn could only head over.
Tranmere suddenly sparked into action and North End ‘keeper Ross Dalton had to be aware to turn Leo Riley’s long range effort around the post.
The visitors centre half Jake Philips went close on the half hour mark, flicking a long free kick onto the post. He went close just after.
His half volley from inside the area was acrobatically turned over the bar by Dalton. But, Philips tried his luck again, only to see North End’s shot stopper stand firm.
Preston battled back into the game and played some excellent football in periods.
Neat and slick moves from back to front unlocked Tranmere with ease towards the back end of the half.
Brownhill was unfortunate not to put his team in the lead on a couple of occasions before half-time. His first effort saw the midfielder showcase his wonderful ball control.
He danced around two Tranmere defenders, shifting the ball back onto his right foot but his shot was comfortable for Rovers goalkeeper Sam Ramsbottom.
His header, just moments later, left Ramsbottom untroubled as his effort flew over from just inside the area.
Tranmere came close after the break, as they went in search of the game’s opening goal.
Winger Leo Riley’s curling effort was tipped comfortably over by the stubborn Dalton.
However, seconds later Rovers were caught cold by a swift North End break.
Joe Whittington raced clear of the visitor’s backline but he was unable to squeeze the ball in at the front post.
Brownhill, who tormented Tranmere throughout, found a pocket of space just in front of the opposition’s defence and released powerful forward Jack Ryan down the right.
Ryan’s deep cross found Magolis, whose header was smothered by ‘keeper Ramsbottom.
The youngsters were able to pin Tranmere back for large periods of the second half. Brownhilll was caught amongst the action again and came agonisingly close. His audacious, looping header from the edge of the area bounced back off the post.
But, North End sensed their sustained pressure would pay off and, in the 64th minute, it did.
Brownhill collected a loose ball just outside the area, he manipulated the ball from his right foot onto his left and bent an effort goalwards.
His strike took a slight deflection on its way into the top corner but it was the goal Preston had thoroughly deserved.
North End tried to see the game out but Tranmere refused to go away without a fight, and forced Dalton into his finest save of the match.
Winger Joe Lamb sent a fierce effort towards Dalton’s top left corner, only for the impressive ‘keeper to somehow claw the ball around the post.
Dalton’s heroics in defence were then matched by Brownhill in attack, who continued his impressive goal scoring form.
The midfielder, with his back to goal, turned and weighed up the defender, moving the ball swiftly onto his right foot and sending an unstoppable shot across the keeper into the bottom corner, securing the win.
And academy boss Nick Harrison was delighted with his captain’s performance in the victory but was keen to praise the quality of all his squad.
He said, “He’s a good player, but he’s not the only one. We’ve got a lot of good players in the squad, players who are out at the moment and will come back into the team when fully fit.
“But, Josh is a very good player and he’s done well for the team again.”
Harrison was also encouraged by the youngsters’ defensive display. Goalkeeper, Ross Dalton was in inspired form, producing several acrobatic saves to keep Tranmere at bay.
Harrison said: “Defensively I thought we were very good, we’ve kept a clean sheet. So, overall as a group we work really hard.”
After a difficult start the Academy manager believes his squad are developing well: “I said from early doors on the interviews, it’s about development and I think that’s exactly what we have done.
“I think we have performed well in nearly every game we’ve played in, we’ve just not got the result. But that’s youth football.
He added, “We have developed as a team and more importantly as individuals and as I say it’s looking good at the moment.”
PNE line-up: Ross Dalton, George Gray, Josh Sampson, Bradley Roscoe, Nick Anderton, Jordan Scott, Sean Holmes, Joe Whittington, Josh Brownhill, Lyle Magolis, Jack Ryan.
Subs not used: Tyler Forbes, Matthew Hudson, James Quigley, Harry Hagon, James Boyd.
Booked: Josh Sampson.