The PNE Academy earned a well fought away win against Lancashire rivals Fleetwood after Adam Joseph Robinson scored directly from a corner to seal the victory.
Louis Myers caught the Preston defence napping early on and beat the offside trap, finding himself bearing down one-on-one with Ross Dalton, but he lacked the necessary composure and skewed his shot wide of the mark.
After an early scare for PNE the game settled into a scrappy midfield battle with the wind having a profound effect on the players’ control.
Luke Pritchard showed the first sign of intent from the Lilywhites when he got behind is man down the left channel before being brought down.
His resulting free-kick was delivered into a wonderful area but the PNE attackers didn’t make the right runs to convert.
Moments later, Myers nearly provided Fleetwood with the lead after the ball found its way to him at the back post.
The striker displayed fantastic technique to hit a half-volley with the outside of his left foot, but his strike sailed just wide of the target.
Around the half hour mark the young Lilywhites started to take control of proceedings, but couldn’t capitalise on a treble chance.
Firstly, Pritchard got beyond the Fleetwood defence before Max Johnstone denied the winger at his feet, sending the ball towards James Boyd whose shot was steered off the line only for Eddie Dsane to conclude the move by dragging his effort wide of the post.
A flurry of chances wasted, but an evident turn of the tide in Preston’s favour and they were playing with more confidence.
Half-time arrived with no further chances of note and it was vital that PNE kept their cool despite having not taken the lead going into the second period.
Almost from the restart Fleetwood forced a corner which was glanced towards goal, but Clive Smith was on hand to head off the line to keep Preston level.
Pritchard then nearly made something out of nothing when Bradley Wicks crossed into the box from the left, the forward intuitively attempted a backward header which looped over the ‘keeper but just wide of the right hand post.
Boyd, typical of his work ethic, was able to nick the ball off a hesitant Fleetwood defender in the right corner and drive into the box.
He then delivered an inch perfect cross between defence and goalkeeper but there were no takers inside the box.
Fleetwood’s bright spark, Myers, had another chance when he jinxed between PNE defenders down the left, however, he slightly hit across a left footed shot which only found the side netting.
Substitute Adam Joseph Robinson then managed to find what proved to be the match winner from a corner.
The left-footer swung in a delivery from the right which caught the wind and by the time Johnstone had gathered the ball the linesman correctly adjudged the goalkeeper as over the line, leaving the Fleetwood players bemused and furious.
As Nick Harrison belted out orders to his players, the team were responding, and in their efforts to stave off Fleetwood’s last gasp efforts, were beating them to every ball.
Into injury time Boyd gave the PNE defence something to worry about, conceding a free kick just outside the right edge of the box.
Tom Coulson stepped up to deliver what would’ve been a damning blow to PNE.
He duly bent his effort over the wall towards the bottom right corner, but Dalton was able save at full-stretch to keep it at 0-1.
In the final minute, the game still had time for one last piece of drama when a Fleetwood cross took several ricochets before falling to Myers at the back post eight yards out, but the forward somehow managed to drag his left foot shot wide of the right hand post and Preston blew a sigh of relief.
The sound of the full time whistle saw a huge amount of satisfaction on North End faces who have found wins tough to come by of late, but many more will come if they can build on this performance.
PNE starting XI: Dalton, Smith, Roscoe, Hagon, Whelan, Wicks, Quigley, Boyd, Lunney, Pritchard, Dsane. Subs: Roberts, A Joseph Robinson, Hancox, Crankshaw, Jagne.
Speaking after the match, manager Nick Harrison was absolutely delighted with his players’ performance, noting that he’s been waiting a while for it.
He said: “I thought the performance has been a long time coming. We were very professional today. We played the game in the right manner.
“We battled for the ball when we needed to and then when we had good possession we passed it well. I thought we looked like a proper, professional team today.”
In recent games the defence has been lacking that cohesion and the attack have been missing a certain spark of creativity, so Harrison was very pleased to see both dimensions work so well.
He continued: “All players made an impact. We won second balls, the back five including the goalkeeper, were brilliant today in terms of stopping them creating chances and that gives the team a lot of confidence.
“I think that then allows the more creative players to then go and be positive and that’s what they did.”
The Academy chief was also particularly encouraged with his side’s mentality off the ball and their work ethic.
“We wanted them to play the game professionally. Understand it’s not just about what you do in possession, if you work hard from the start and stop them creating chances you might nick one at the other end and win 1-0 and we have done that today.
“A 1-0 win is as good as anything because it’s three points. We haven’t conceded so we’re really delighted with how professionally they’ve played,” he added.
The way in which the young Lilywhites kept their composure throughout the game despite it being 0-0 for the vast majority, and maybe deserving more, also impressed the manager.
He explained: “At half time we told them not to panic. Some of the players might have thought we deserved to maybe be one or 2-0 up, but it don’t work out that way.
“It’s a 90 minute game and you have to keep going.
“It’s always good to win any game, but obviously yes, it’s a bit of a derby game so of course it is nice to get the win, but apart from the result being good we were more pleased with the team and individual performances today.”