Preston North End U18s lost 3-2 against Blackpool in a close but entertaining derby match on Saturday morning.
Goals from Mike Howard and Ki Smart either side of half time ensured the Lilywhites overcame Jack Newton’s early header, but Rowan Roache’s second half brace handed Blackpool the win.
Both sides made lively starts with PNE playing on familiar territory at UCLan Sports Arena, despite being classed as the away side for this game.
And within the first five minutes, Roache had curled over for the home team while Tom Stead’s header was saved by Blackpool goalkeeper Jack Sims from a corner at the opposite end.
Finlay Sinclair-Smith forced the Lilywhites’ stopper Callum Roberts to save while Harry Garstang caused problems in PNE’s attack, first setting up Ki Smart for a close-range chance and then hitting a stunning volley straight at the Blackpool goalkeeper from a similar area.
Stead went close with another header from a Melle Meulensteen free-kick but it was Blackpool who went ahead with a set-piece in the 14th minute, as Newton glanced Roache’s right-wing delivery into the far corner.
Meulensteen hit another volley for North End from outside the box but his effort was held, while Ralph Chea forced Roberts to make a low save minutes later.
The game continued in an end-to-end fashion and Leon Creech nearly found the top corner after a corner was cleared to him, but Sims saved again midway through the half.
Blackpool nearly scored with a repeat of their first goal after 30 minutes as Dylan Sumner headed Roache’s right-wing free-kick wide of the far post.
But North End upped the intensity towards the end of the half and after a couple of minutes of pressure, they were rewarded with an equaliser.
The ball fell to Mike Howard on the left side of the box, who took the ball past his marker and unleashed a fierce strike into the bottom right corner with his left foot.
And North End looked more likely to go ahead before the break, with Earl setting up Smart and Garstang for chances in the box – the former shooting over and the latter forcing a great reaction save from the Blackpool stopper.
The second half wasn’t as action-packed as the first, but North End took the lead just five minutes after the interval.
Another left-wing Earl cross reached its target, with Smart heading in at the far post to score.
However, Blackpool got back into the game just before the hour when Chea went down advancing on goal, and Roache placed the spot-kick into the bottom right corner to draw his side level.
A draw looked like the most probable outcome, with Howard’s drive from the edge of the area the closest either side came to scoring in the next 20 minutes.
But Blackpool scored a winner only six minutes from time, with Roache slotting in from a loose ball near the penalty spot for the Tangerines.
The Lilywhites pushed hard for an equaliser; with substitute Tom Barry hooking Stead’s flick-on just wide from close-range before fellow late arrival Akwasi Kwateng had a goal disallowed for a foul in added time.
And Earl leapt high to connect with Meulensteen’s corner in added time, but his header flashed wide as North End fell to a narrow defeat.
However, academy boss Nick Harrison took some positives from his side’s display. He said: “I thought it was a really open game and the score probably could have been 5-5 or 6-6.
“We passed it quite well and because of that, we've created lots of chances. We actually missed some chances that were easier than the ones we scored. But I was pleased with how we played when we got the ball.
“Both teams had chances, which is maybe not a great reflection on the defending from both sets of teams, but I thought we played well.”
However, Harrison suggested that his side’s two goals should have been enough to win the game.
He added: “We shouldn't have to score four of five goals to win a game, and two should be enough.
“We've analysed the game with the players and gone through some little things and pointed out that, by just tweaking positions or winning a tackle or staying with a runner, then that's how you stop teams from scoring goals.
“If you're playing in a derby game and you're 2-1 up, you've got to find a way to keep the score 2-1. We maybe had a chance of nicking a third but the reason we didn't win the game is because we let them back into it by not defending properly.”
But the academy boss also felt the result could have been different on another day.
He said: “We spoke with their staff after the game and I think we agreed that it could have gone either way.
“I thought there was an element of luck to their winning goal because it's a strong tackle that has ricocheted and just landed to their player in the box but obviously he's finished it well.
“I think we passed the ball quite well today. I thought we opened them up; we've shifted the ball about and put good balls into the box that we should have scored from.”