Preston North End were unable to continue their unbeaten streak as they suffered a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Shrewsbury Town on Saturday morning.
Two goals from Shrews number nine Jeff Watkins meant Preston failed to build on last weekend’s 3-0 away win to Carlisle; the defeat being only their second loss this calendar year.
Shrewsbury welcomed their opponents in gleaming sunshine down in Shropshire with a perfect surface to play football on, the tie, marking the furthest the young Lilywhites have had to travel this season.
The away side who made the 90 mile journey down to Shropshire found themselves with the ball at their feet for much of the opening quarter.
However dogged defending from Shrewsbury’s back four kept them at bay reducing them the visitors to a limited number of chances in the first half.
Shrewsbury’s Joe Kenton, who only knew he was playing ten minutes before kick-off after Thomas King sustained a late injury, played a lofted ball into Ethan Jones, but the Shrewsbury number seven shot straight at Ross Dalton.
That wasn’t the only time the PNE shot stopper was tested in the first half.
Long range efforts from Josh Ginnelly and Jack Richards keeping North End’s goalkeeper on his toes.
A promising cross from Joe Whittington that beat everyone for pace prompted Shrewsbury to clear their lines.
The cross marking the closest the visitors got to scoring in the first period.
Despite the bulk of possession, North End were confined to playing in their own half for much of the first period and slowly but surely, their opponents began to find a way into the game.
Alex Fletcher split the PNE defence with a through ball to leave it on a plate for Watkins who toe poked it past Dalton and into the net with 37 minutes on the referee’s watch.
Before the ref brought the curtain down on the first half, Shrewsbury had time to nearly double their lead.
Ethan Jones played keepy-uppy on the edge of the box before letting loose a right footed cannon that went just over.
At half-time, manager Nick Harrison brought on Clive Smith for Tom Bunclark as the PNE U18 boss looked to turn possession into goals in the second period.
After a quiet opening to the second half, George Gray picked up the ball in the middle of the park before driving his effort over in the early stages, then Shrewsbury themselves went through a purple patch.
A quick thinking Dalton was on hand to pounce on a loose ball to deny Ginnelly a clear chance at goal, before excellent defending diverted Matthew Jones’ volley away from the goal-mouth.
With half an hour remaining, PNE gave themselves every chance of getting back into the game.
An in-swinging Whittington corner fell to Jordan Scott on the edge of the area, but the midfielder couldn’t direct his volley at goal in time.
Whittington was in on the action again when he troubled the Town defence before going down in the edge of the box.
Claims for a penalty were waved away however by referee Mr Walker, ignoring the protests from white shirts.
Captain Tyler Forbes then led with a brace of chances.
The first, forcing Burton to save at his right hand post, before the PNE skipper turned his man, and fired towards goal, the angle being too acute the second time round to trouble Shrewsbury’s ‘keeper.
A curling effort that just went wide of the goal-mouth from Ginnelly was a warning sign of what was to come as Shrewsbury doubled their advantage just as North End were looking like grabbing an equaliser.
Watkins took one touch from outside the area before releasing a looping effort that left Dalton with no chance to ensure there was no way back in the game for the Lilywhites.
And Watkins had time to nearly grab a hat-trick, but his effort was too close to Dalton who saved before clearing away the danger.
After failing to maintain their unbeaten record, U18s coach Andy Fensome was left to rue the lack of an end product.
Reflecting on the game, Andy said: “We’ve stepped up a gear in recent weeks, but today we was just a little too flat.
“We didn’t pass the ball as well as we could have done.
“The first 20 minutes, we passed it well and put a lot of pressure on them, but then we started playing backwards quite a lot rather than being positive, and so we invited pressure.
“We didn’t hurt them enough with our possession, we couldn’t find a way through which frustrated us, and that meant we weren’t as patient in our build up play and we started playing longer balls and longer passing.”
A goal in each half meant the Lilywhites made the long journey back home empty handed, and there was a hint of regret from Fensome with how the goals were conceded.
“The first goal was a mistake by us,” he continued.
“We tried playing it out, and it didn’t come off.
“With the second goal, the lad’s hit it from 35 yards into the top corner, so there’s not a lot you can do about that.”
PNE Starting XI – Dalton, Gray, Anderton, Scott, Sampson, Roscoe, Forbes, Holmes, Livesey, Bunclark, Whittington
PNE subs – Smith, Hudson, Magolis, Hagon, Pritchard
Shrewsbury Starting XI – C. Burton, Carpenter, Richards, Fletcher, Rickman, B.Burton, E.Jones, Flint, Watkins, Ginnelly, Kenton
Shrewsbury subs – M.Jones, Ashton, Ryan, Molyneux