North End U18s stretched their winning run to six games yesterday afternoon with a narrow 1-0 away victory against Tranmere Rovers.
Nick Harrison made four changes to the 11 that beat Shrewsbury by the same score line last week – Callum Roberts replacing Mathew Hudson in goal to give the first-year valuable game time, whilst Adam Joseph Robinson and Tom Barry came out of the side for U16s Lewis Fensome and Michael Howard respectively.
The other change saw Dylan Davidson replace Josh Earl with Harrison hoping for more of the same from his players – who haven’t lost a game since September.
The game was by no means a classic, with two organised sides showing why they both have one of the best defensive records in the division.
Spectators had to wait until the 15th minute for the first chance of the game – Michael Howard shifting the ball out right to fire a low shot that the Tranmere goalkeeper, Patrik Rutter got his body behind to save.
Tranmere’s Jamie Heron had a brace of chances that failed to trouble Roberts in goal, whilst Lunney’s shot from the other end was straight down the keeper’s throat just after the half hour.
Rovers’ first shot on target came from Tom Croughan who forced Roberts low to save just five minutes from half-time.
The home side started the second-half bright – Roberts called into action twice in the space of two minutes with James Hunter and Croughan forcing the North End shot stopper to tip the ball over his cross bar.
But North End settled into the second-half, and after the hour, they finally got into their stride.
Lunney had a trio of chances to give his side the lead, before finally giving North End the advantage on the third attempt.
The Irishman curled a shot wide of Rutter’s goal on the first, before forcing the Tranmere goalkeeper to tip onto his post shortly after.
The goal finally came on 80 minutes – with the ball coming to him at hip height, Lunney took several touches without letting the ball bounce before firing a volley into the top corner - a goal that would have come as a relief to Lunney and his manager.
“It was a great finish,” admitted Harrison.
“He could, and probably should have scored two goals before it so he’s shown great character in the fact that he’s kept going and kept trying to get into the right positions.
“It was a good goal because I think we won the second ball and we’ve passed the ball quickly forward and it’s a great finish into the top corner.
“I thought it was a pretty even game – we knew Tranmere have got a few threats and they’ve done well so far this season.
“We felt all it needed was just a bit of quality to maybe go and win it, and towards the end of it, we probably could have won it by two or three goals but we’re delighted with the character of the boys that they kept going and yes as a group of staff we’re delighted with the performance and I know the players are too.”
Since losing to Wigan in the LFA Youth Cup in September, North End have won six on the trot, keeping five clean sheets in the process, and Harrison was pleased, despite making four changes to the side, there was still enough quality to beat a strong Tranmere team.
He continued: “I think we’ve got a group of players that can perform against anybody.
"We’ve put two U16 players in the team just to give us something different, and it’s worked and they’ve played well.
“I think as long as we perform well and show the character that we have done in the last few games, we can keep getting positive results.
“They’re good players but there’s no reason why they shouldn’t believe in themselves regardless of whether we’re on a winning run.
"What they’ve got to realise is that there’s always an opposition and they’re always going to try and win, but as long as you carry on winning there becomes and expectation but I think they’ve got to live with that expectation.
“They’re at a very good club, there is an expectation to win, but that’s something they’ve got to deal with if they want to be a professional footballer.”
PNE XI: Roberts, Fensome, Whelan, Jagne, B Roberts, Earl, Crankshaw, Meulensteen, Howard, Boyd, Lunney
PNE Subs: A Joseph Robinson, Hudson, Burgoyne, Barry, Davidson