Preston North End got their FA Youth Alliance Cup campaign off to the perfect start with a 1-0 win over York City on Saturday, putting them joint top of their group after the first of three games.
North End were the dominant side for the most of the game but had to wait until the sixth minute of stoppage time before going ahead, as Dylan Davidson converted from the penalty spot.
Judging by the home side’s start, though, it was a surprise that the goal took so long to come. Davidson had gone close from a corner early on, whilst Mike Howard had clearly got the beating of his man down the left flank after a series of impressive surges forward from the winger.
Akwasi Kwateng, who won almost everything in the air throughout the game, went close with a header from a corner, and Melle Meulensteen wasn’t far away with his shot from outside the area.
The frustration which the Lilywhites would have to endure was visible early on though, with Jack Burgoyne’s booking – for what was his first challenge – just one of a few peculiar decisions made by the referee in the match.
Howard struck wide from Meulensteen’s free-kick from a narrow angle shortly after, but York grew into the game and went close in the 18th minute, striking over in space from the edge of the area.
PNE went close again through Lewis Fensome, who acrobatically volleyed over from a corner, but it was left-back Josh Earl who hit the target for the first time for the home side, with his long distance effort forcing the York ‘keeper into a save at the second attempt.
In the final moments of the half Davidson twice went close, striking just wide of the far post from the edge of the area before hitting a shot at the goalkeeper from a closer distance, whilst York struck efforts wide and over from inside the area.
The half ended level and winger Alex Wood was introduced at the break, and after a series of bookings for both sides, he linked up well with Leon Creech who almost found Davidson, with the forward only inches away from getting a touch from the cross.
The home side seemed close to opening the scoring, with Howard and Meulensteen both testing the York ‘keeper inside the box either side of some admirable Fensome defending at the other end.
However, chances became increasingly sparse for both sides as the game went on, with Wood’s looping header over the bar being the only other notable chance before the final ten minutes.
Harry Garstang and Jerome Lolly both came on in the final stages for the home side but despite their best efforts, it looked as though it would be another frustrating afternoon for North End.
But in the 94th minute Earl made a superb run into the area whilst skipping past several defenders, and he was only stopped in his tracks after being brought down by a York defender – earning the home side a penalty. Davidson had to wait several minutes before he could step up amidst the visitors’ complaints, but he dispatched the kick confidently into the right corner, handing North End a thoroughly deserved victory.
York weren’t happy that a penalty had been awarded against them but PNE boss Nick Harrison backed the referee’s call: “Josh did well because we ask the players to pick up loose balls and second balls and he did that in the box, causing the opposition to be a bit clumsy – that’s what can happen in the penalty area.
“I thought it was a penalty and it was a great finish from Dylan to put it in the back of the net. Our objective was to win the game, so we’re delighted that we’ve done that.”
On the result and performance, Nick added: “I thought we were very good and it was a good cup game in terms of intensity. I felt that we showed a bit of quality throughout the game. We passed the ball well and won our second balls well and the lads gave it a good go throughout the game.
“There’s no doubt that we deserved to win. I thought we dominated possession and had some good chances even though there wasn’t lots of opportunities for either side – but that’s what real football is all about. The players battled for every ball and fortunately we got the winner at the end.
“We’ve got a clean sheet, which is important because that’s what the objective is for the whole team. We want the players to work hard defensively out of possession. I thought we defended really well and we worked hard to close the ball down, win our second balls and nullify their threats. I’m really pleased with how all of the team did out of possession.”