Preston North End’s U18s suffered heart-break yesterday afternoon succumbing to an injury-time defeat against Rochdale in a dramatic 3-2 finish.
The defeat put an end to PNE’s three match winning streak having opened the season with victories over Accrington, Port Vale, and more recently Wigan Athletic.
The loss was by no means a concerning one for the U18s with many of the usual team playing in a reserve game on the same day, meaning there were eight changes to those that started against the Latics last time out, with many coming from the U16s side.
Along with Ross Dalton, and James Boyd, Sean Whelan was one of those that played in the 4-2 win over Wigan a fortnight ago, with the Irishman captaining the side at left back.
And it was from the left channel where Whelan broke for the first time in the game, with the first-year scholar playing through a searching cross into Oliver Crankshaw who skimmed his header across the face of goal and past the goalmouth.
Rochdale’s James Hooper, and Pratt both had half chances to give the home side the initiative going into the break but neither seriously troubled North End goalkeeper Dalton meaning the sides would go into half-time appropriately at 0-0 after a cautious first-half of football.
10 minutes into the second-half however and Preston found themselves behind through Pratt, with the number nine being played in by Hooper to blast the ball past Dalton and into the net.
Preston’s sluggish second-half became more apparent when Rochdale added a second with Brandon Smalley firing home on the half volley from inside the area four minutes later.
But after their slow start to the second half, the Lilywhites’ regrouped and were thrown a lifeline after 64 minutes - Hagon coming up from the back to flick a header in off the post to half Rochdale’s advantage.
An off the line clearance by Ellis Hancox and a terrific reaction save by Dalton after Dominic Reid found a way through North End’s defence gave Preston the opportunity of still claiming a point at Stainton Park.
And they looked as though they were going to after a Lamin Jagne corner found Roberts lurking at the back post who powered his header past goalkeeper Rhys Lovet and into the net in the last minute of normal time.
It seemed as though the opportunity for a winner looked more appealing then preserving the draw for Preston’s hopefuls however, and they were punished when a Rochdale break saw Pratt slide the ball past Dalton and into the net with the full-time whistle blowing almost instantly after the restart, leaving North End highly unfortunate to not take a point away with them as they journeyed back to Preston.
Speaking after the final whistle, PDP U18s coach Andy Fensome, who was deputising for Nick Harrison yesterday afternoon with the latter in charge of the reserve game, admits the last minute defeat is a harsh lesson worth learning for the players.
Many of those that featured in the game yesterday where of U16 level with still many more miles left on the clock before they are by any means the finished article, and Fensome acknowledged that difficult blows like this one are part and parcel of not just youth football, but football in general.
“We told them as soon as they got into the changing room at full-time to use this as a learning curve,” said Fensome.
“We made sure that players ask questions of themselves - like how do they feel? Why they lost? And how can they learn from this? So it doesn’t happen to them again.
“There were some very good performances out there from the boys today - we had a very young side who’ve come to a strong Rochdale team and put on a really good performance.
"We didn’t start very well in the second-half and that’s when we conceded - but we did fantastic to grab ourselves back in it at 2-2 on 90 minutes but then there was a little bit of naivety with us conceding in the last four minutes of injury time.”
The 3-2 score line looked a far distant one at half-time, with both sides going into the break without breaking the deadlock, and nor their opposition defences with goalmouth action almost unheard of in the first 45.
Nonetheless, Fensome was pleased with the overall effort in the first-half of the players, with a slow start in the second-half arguably being their downfall.
On what he told his side behind closed doors at half-time, Fensome added “We told them to do the same but be more competitive. We talked about our game plan and how we’d go about it as a team.
“I thought the boys were excellent first-half - the decisions they were making were the correct ones so I told them to to do exactly the same in the second half but when we do get possession of the ball to be a bit more cutting and make a wiser choice of pass - we just came out very slowly second half and that really did cost us.
“They’ve gone into the dressing room and the lads are so gutted they’ve conceded in four minutes of injury time, but we’re delighted with the spirit that’s been shown and the boys need to make sure they use this as a learning curve for the future.”
Preston XI – Ross Dalton, James Quigley, Sean Whelan (C), Lamin Jagne, Ellis Hancox, Harry Hagon, Harry Blackburn, James Boyd, Sam Livesey, Oliver Crankshaw, Joshua Earl.
Preston Subs – Ben Roberts, James Bulloch, Lewis Shorrock, Jack Burgoyne, Alex Wood
Rochdale XI – Rhys Lovet, Abayomi Akkinale-Samuels, Callum Schorah, Connor Cowan-Thompson, Omar Sinclair, Louis Coyne, Brandon Smalley, Tyler Berry, Harry Pratt, Dominic Reid, James Hooper
Rochdale Subs – Ellis Robinson, Declan Evans, Steve Affonga, William Shawcross, Josh Graham