A late extra-time strike from Josh Earl saw North End’s youngsters claim victory against Carlisle in the third round of the FA Youth Cup at Brunton Park.
The game looked destined for penalties only for Earl to surge forward with the ball at his feet, firing an effort into the net.
Academy boss Nick Harrison rested a number of his usual starters at the weekend against Rochdale with this game in mind, and made a total of ten changes from the defeat, with Jack Burgoyne the only man keeping his place at the heart of the defence.
The break seemed to have done the youngsters the world of good after North End opened the encounter on the front foot.
It took just three minutes for PNE to test Carlisle’s goalkeeper Morgan Bacon - Lamin Jagne drove his way to the by-line to set up Freddy Tracey, whose shot was turned away for a corner, whilst Dylan Davidson fired a shot straight into the arms of the Cumbrian's shot-stopper.
Tracey then got in behind the Carlisle defence, his strike rebounding off the 'keeper to Davidson who was denied by the goalkeeper once again, before Tracey had another bite of the cherry, only for his effort to sail wide.
Melle Meulensteen continued PNE’s momentum with his first time strike turning away for a corner, before the Lilywhites finally had something to show for their ten minutes of dominance.
A cross into the back-post found its way to Burgoyne who leaped higher than the rest to power his header into the net to the delight of North End’s youngsters.
The Cumbrians were dealt a blow 19 minutes into the game when Mickey Quigley left the field due to an earlier injury for Joe Breen.
PNE leading scorer Jonathan Lunney threatened to add to his tally of five goals this season – his shot stinging the palms of Bacon after cutting inside and firing low into the ‘keepers path.
Carlisle’s first chance of the game came on 24 minutes – a set-piece from the training ground almost caught Preston out. As Carl Taylor’s corner was whipped in, all blue shirts in the box were pinned to the goal line forcing the North End defence to do the same, before Ellis Pearson’s header struck the bar before going out of play.
With 38 minutes on the clock, Cuan Hurley chipped a ball into the box to Kieran Hall but the No.9’s header trickled off target.
That chance however proved a warning sign as a minute later, Carlisle had their best chance of the half - Cameron Salkfield splitting the North End defence to fire a shot at Hudson who palmed the ball away from danger.
Despite that late cameo, Harrison and co. would have been relatively happy with that first stanza, with no doubt that North End had the better of the first-half.
Albeit it didn’t have the same electric opening as the first-half, it took seven minutes before North End recorded their first chance of the second period. An inventive ball from Meulensteen picked out Davidson on
the right flank perfectly – the Irishman cutting inside before lifting a shot into the arms of Bacon.
Just before the hour, Tracey was cautioned for a late foul, and the resulting free-kick, taken by Pearson just inside of the North End half almost caught the PNE shot-stopper out, with Hudson forcing to tip the audacious effort over.
Carlisle made their final substitutions with Jack Egan coming on for Salkeld, and Kieran Hall making way for Max Brown, whilst Harrison made his first change with James Boyd making his bow for Meulensteen, just after the hour.
The substitution saw PNE step it up a gear, the energetic Boyd taking the ball off Taylor on the edge of the 'D' forcing Bacon off his line to collect.
Boyd was again causing problems shooting from the byline after finding his way through the Blues' defence forcing Bacon into action whose save cleared the danger.
Harrison made his second change with 14 minutes to go, with Lamin Jagne, who had previously been struggling with cramp limped off for Josh Earl.
Carlisle with nothing to lose began to throw men forward – a long ball over the top found its way to Brown, who managed to get a shot off which struck Hudson before North End cleared.
The chance was cleared, but the danger continued and Carlisle fashioned an equaliser ten minutes from time.
In response, Earl down the left-hand side proved a useful outlet, the youngster bursting forward before hitting a shot which Bacon managed to hang onto.
Excellent counter-attacking football from North End saw Lunney with the ball at his feet after Earl had surged forward from a corner, but the Irishman’s effort was smothered by Bacon with just minutes left of the 90.
At the death of normal time, North End were dealt a scare - a troublesome cross from Breen saw Crankshaw only get a foot to it before Hudson jumped on the loose ball, before the referee blew his whistle signalling the end of the 90 minutes.
North End again restarted the better team, Earl sending a free header from a Lunney free-kick over whilst Lunney’s 25 yard effort was tipped over, but their chances made no difference to the scoreline.
Crankshaw became the latest player to go down with cramp in the 112th minute, but North End continued to push for that all important winner – Earl weaving his way into the box, only for his cross to be turned behind.
A long ball seemed to surprise the North End back line with Bradbury only denied by a last ditch tackle from Ben Roberts a second goal of the game.
Michael Howard made his introduction with 13 minutes left of the game for Davidson, and had the chance to make the headlines after Tracey laid it back to the U16s man just ten minutes from time, but his shot through his laces flew wide.
As penalties beckoned, from nothing Earl with the ball at his feet surged forward before unleashing a wicked shot that took two bounces before gracing the net, to give Preston the winner.
Carlisle threw the proverbial kitchen sink at North End, which in turn gave Preston an opportunity of grabbing a second on the counter – Tracey meeting a long North End clearance, before hitting an early shot that Bacon saved – the rebound fell to Lunney whose shot from the half-way line braced the side netting.
Bradbury had the chance of giving the tie one more twist, but his free header fell gracefully into the arms of a thankful Hudson signalling a job well done for North End’s youngsters.
PNE line-up: Hudson, Crankshaw, Whelan, Jagne, B Roberts, Burgoyne, Davidson, A James Robinson, Tracey, Meulensteen, Lunney
PNE subs: Boyd, C Roberts, Earl. Howard, Fensome