Preston North End were knocked out of the LFA Professional Youth Cup at the penultimate stage, losing 4-1 to Blackpool.
A Jack Ryan goal on the stroke of half-time threatened to halt Blackpool’s rhythm after they went two up from a Harrison McGahey penalty, and a Sam Staunton-Turner goal.
But second-half strikes from Dominic Telford and George Lomax saw the Tangerines overcome North End and reach the final.
Coming back into the side were second year scholars Ryan, and Nick Anderton; who were made available after being given permission to play in the game from their loan club’s Stalybridge Celtic, and Chorley.
In typical semi-final fashion, a cagey opening proceeded the game, with neither side creating many chances inside the first 20 minutes and it took a Blackpool break on 21 minutes for the game to be brought to life.
Telford freed himself from the PNE defence before being brought down by George Gray in the box, with the referee pointing to the spot immediately.
Centre-back McGahey took the penalty, and sent goalkeeper Tom Quinn the wrong way to fire into the bottom right hand corner to give his side the first spoils of the game.
The goal saw Blackpool really take the game to their opponents, but stubborn North End defending kept them at bay for most of the first half.
The exception coming from Lomax, who, after coming out on top in an aerial challenge between Quinn and himself, toe-poked into the net, only for it to be brought back by the referee for an infringement on the PNE goalkeeper.
And Lomax again played a part in breaking through the North End defence, but this time to greater avail, the forward playing a neat flick into the Tangerine’s captain Staunton-Turner who fired home just before the half hour mark.
Despite having the bulk of possession, Blackpool failed to make their opponents pay, much to do with the tenacious nature of the home side, who weren’t letting their opponents past them easy.
And on the stroke of half-time, Preston’s defending paid off, when Jordan Scott intercepted a ball in the opposition half, the midfielder coolly slotting in Ryan who placed his shot past Hunt and into the net to give
the Lilywhites a well-timed way back into the game.
The goal would have changed Nick Harrison’s team talk at half-time slightly, but their cause wasn’t helped when Dion Charles went on a mazy run from his own half early in the second period, which finished with him at the opposition byline before teeing up Telford.
His shot looking on target, but a George Sampson block prevented his goalkeeper from having to do any work.
But Blackpool’s two goal cushion was restored just past the hour mark courtesy of Telford, the number ten with a right footed effort from the edge of the box which fired in to the bottom corner.
Shortly after, a Blackpool corner eventually found its way to McGahey on the edge of the 18 yard box, but his effort could only rattle Quinn’s crossbar.
In response, Harrison brought on Luke Pritchard for Lyle Magolis, and the 17-year-old made an instant impact.
Magolis holding up the ball well from a perfectly executed Anderton long ball, before laying the ball off to Scott, but he could only shoot straight into the arms of Connor Hunt.
Scott was replaced shortly afterwards by Sam Livesey as North End were enjoying their best spell of the game.
Ryan used his strength and power to get the best of his marker before squaring the ball to Tom Bunclark who rifled a shot at goal, but again Blackpool’s shot stopper rose to the challenge and saved.
As the final whistle loomed, PNE threw everything at the Seasiders in a desperate attempt to get back into the game.
Bradley Roscoe came up for a corner and he saw his flick on cleared off the line, before Adam Robinson’s looping ball found Tyler Forbes at the back post, but North End’s captain couldn’t keep his header down.
PNE’s late ditch attempt to get back into the game left inevitable gaps in their defence and that became evident when Lomax put the game to bed with the best goal of the game.
A high ball into the forward saw the ball bounce once, before he let loose a thunderbolt volley over Quinn and into the net.
And that defeat brought down the curtain on North End U18s competitive season with a terrific cup run and a respectable league table finish to show for it.
Reflecting on the cup defeat, Harrison was quick to acknowledge his side hadn’t done well enough to clinch a place in the LFA Youth Cup Final.
North End had defeated Morecambe and Fleetwood in the earlier stages to get to the final, but despite starting the game well enough, Harrison says the penalty was a killer blow to North End’s tempo.
The U18s boss said: “I thought for the first 20 minutes of the game, we competed well and could easily have edged ourselves in front.
“But once they got their penalty our heads dropped.
“We didn’t do the basics well and I thought we didn’t compete well enough in certain periods of the game to affect the result.
“Like in a lot of the games this season, we made it too easy for them to get their goals.
“It’s not just the back four that defend; it’s the whole team, so that’s something we need to work on for next year.
The North End coach welcomed the return of Anderton and Ryan for the game after going out on loan recently and admitted the return of the duo was a benefit to all concerned.
“Both hadn’t played 90 minutes for a bit, so we wanted to make sure they kept their development going and to get them more game time.
“We thank both Chorley and Stalybridge Celtic for allowing us to let them play today and they both came in and did well.
“Jack deserved his goal and having them both back was a bonus.”
PNE starting XI: Quinn, Gray, Anderton, Scott, Sampson, Roscoe, Robinson, Holmes, Ryan, Forbes, Pritchard.
PNE Subs: Bunclark, Dalton, Hagon, Magolis, Livesey.
Blackpool starting XI: Hunt, Richardson, Higham, Waddington, McGahey, Moulden, Charles, Staunton-Turner, Lomax, Telford, Cameron.
Blackpool subs: Clayton, Milton, Ready, Rowley