PNE U18s recorded a 3-0 win over Morecambe as an own goal and a brace from U16s midfielder Elliot Watt sealed an impressive victory.
With the game being the third in five days, coach Nick Harrison made ten changes to the weekend’s defeat against Shrewsbury with Callum Roberts in goal the only man attained.
Four of those changes saw U16 lads brought into the fold, and one of those, Michael Howard made his mark on the game early on.
From the left wing, the teenager forced his opposition full back to dispossess on nine minutes, cutting inside and letting loose a drive that whistled wide.
His fellow U16 team-mate, Alex Wood from the opposite flank also threatened with a drilled cross from the byline that forced the Morecambe shot-stopper to parry away, before PNE found the breakthrough with Watt just before the half hour.
It was breath-taking stuff from Watt who squirmed his way past numerous Morecambe shirts on the edge, played the cutest of one-twos with Tom Barry in the process before finding the right-hand corner of the Shrimps goal.
Soon after, Howard had a brace of shots in quick succession; the first narrowed over, whilst the second was well saved by Niall Maher.
Morecambe had their best chance of the half on the stroke of half-time – Roberts only managed to get a hand on Kyle Hawley’s shot, but Callum Tait was on hand to clear off the line.
In the second-half, North End took it up a level and after going close on two occasions Watt finally grabbed his second by latching onto Wood’s cross to volley the ball into the net.
North End wrapped it up with 14 minutes remaining after another cross from Wood on the right was bundled home by a Shrimps shirt to make it 3-0 in favour of the Lilywhites.
It was clear the U16s could more than hold their own at U18 level, and assistant coach Andy Fensome believed today epitomised the faith the coaching staff have in the lower age groups at North End.
“We’ve had a difficult week results wise but we’ve switched the team around a bit today, brought some young boys in and I thought it was a terrific performance,” told the former Preston defender.
“We’ve got faith in the lads here. We’ve changed the team around because the boys have had some tough games this week but the players that have come in have given us a bit of life and a bit of energy mixed in with some of the first and second-year scholars.
“The players that we’re bringing in are good players and that’s what we’re saying to them in the dressing room. We want them to be positive and express themselves. If you’re a wide player, take them on, If
you’re a midfield player look to move forward, If you’re a defender, be a defender first and foremost, but then can you play? And I think today the two young boys that played wide [Alex Wood and Michael Howard] put lots of crosses into the box, Elliot Watt scored two goals from midfield, and young Fenners [Lewis Fensome] defended well.
“All of those boys have got scholarships for next year and it’s important that we build on today for next year. With those boys, it’s up to them to lead the team for next year.”
After bowing out of two competitions last week, PNE can concentrate their efforts on the league, and with the Lilywhites within touching distance of the top with 10 games to go, it’s all to play for going into the remainder of the season and Fensome told the Club website places in the starting XI are up for grabs, particularly on today’s showing.
Fensome added: “The lads that have played today have earned that right with that performance, and they do that week in, week out in training.
“It’s their job to put themselves on the line to get a result for the team. They don’t play week in, week out, but their time will come, and today’s performance shows that they want to go and play every week.
“The first-years we’ve got need to play games but at the same time, they have to be good enough to be in the team and they have to train hard through the week to get themselves into that position.
“They’ve got to learn how to win games but they’ve got to learn to win games well - we’re looking to put good performances in and not just win the game.”
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