Preston North End U18s started their League season with a frustrating 0-0 draw at home to Carlisle United on Saturday as their dominance ultimately went unrewarded.
The young Lilywhites created several chances to score in both halves and although they managed to keep a clean sheet themselves, they couldn’t inflict the necessary damage on their opponents.
It was Carlisle who started the better in the opening minutes, with one shot trickling wide of Callum Roberts’ post before Josh Earl had to be alert to cut out a threatening pass forwards.
It didn’t take long for the home side to come to life, though, and after less than ten minutes PNE started to take control of the game. Wingers Mike Howard and Alex Wood were heavily involved throughout and went close to scoring and setting up an opener for the Lilywhites early on.
Lewis Fensome headed just over and Dylan Davidson had his shot saved in a strong period for PNE, but Carlisle started to threaten on the counter attack after about 20 minutes.
A dangerous cross had to be cleared before Roberts was finally called into meaningful action, first saving a shot from range before acting as a fifth defender to cut out a long ball over the backline.
Tom Barry twice went close before half time but there were no further opportunities of note until after the break, as Carlisle again got the first shot away with Roberts saving an effort from distance.
A fantastic start to the half from left-back Earl helped the Lilywhites to resume control, though, as PNE nearly broke the deadlock on more than one occasion around the hour mark.
Having hooked a half-volley goalwards just before, Davidson was then extremely unfortunate not to score as he headed towards the top corner, but an expertly-deft touch took the ball away from its destined target. Oscar O’Neil, who had replaced Barry shortly before, was then equally unlucky not to get a goal when Carlisle ‘keeper Morgan Bacon produced a sensational stop to prevent his curling effort finding the same corner.
There was more disbelief in order for the home side as it looked like it simply wouldn’t be their day. Melle Meulensteen’s corner bounced around the area with no-one able to get a decisive touch on the ball, with Akwasi Kwateng amongst those close to netting.
Again though, Carlisle started to get back into the game and they would have been just as dismayed not to score at the other end. Roberts was twice forced off his line to make some vital saves, but when he was beaten for a third time, Fensome was perfectly positioned to clear off the line.
The excellent Wood was replaced by Harry Garstang with seven minutes left, and whilst he looked capable of making a difference, the visitors had one final opportunity as they pickpocketed PNE in possession. Fortunately, Roberts clawed the subsequent shot away superbly.
The home side weren’t finished, though, as Davidson and Earl both had headers saved in added time, but PNE ultimately couldn’t get the goal they needed to show for their dominance in the game.
Despite the frustrating result, manager Nick Harrison was able to take plenty of positives from his team’s performance: “I think the players worked hard and put a real shift in today and, defensively as a group, the organisation was very good and we’re happy with the clean sheet. They did all the things we want them to do early on in the season, in terms of putting pressure on the opposition and making recovery runs.
“The players are still gaining fitness and getting that match sharpness back, so I was really pleased with how we were off the ball. We can tell at the moment that they are trying to help each other, especially out of possession, and I think we’ve got into a position now where we’re keeping clean sheets and limiting the opposition to fewer chances. But we do need to start scoring more goals.
“We created lots of chances, especially early on in the game. If we scored one I think there might have been two or three that followed but obviously we didn’t, and it’s something we’ve got to be better at. Football is all about winning games, and to win games you’ve got to score goals.
“We wanted to get the ball wide and get it in the box because we felt that would be an opportunity to create chances. That final ball sometimes wasn’t quite right, we couldn’t get on the end of something or we wanted an extra touch. We’re still early in the season though and I’m sure the players will find their feet and start to capitalise on those chances as we move on throughout the season."