Nick Harrison spoke of a 'gutting' week for PNE U18s following yesterday’s 1-0 defeat to Shrewsbury in the Youth Alliance Cup Northern final.
After the heartbreak of last Wednesday as the youth side bowed out on penalties in the FA Youth Cup against Luton, Harrison’s side suffered more frustration after falling at the penultimate hurdle in the Youth
Alliance Cup, with an early second-half strike from Shrews' Ethan Jones the difference.
“It’s two tough results to take,” conceded the Preston North End youth coach. “Ultimately we’ve lost both games in competitions were we’d have liked to have progressed further.
“They’ve played lots of minutes but that’s what they’ve got to do in the real world. If you’re playing in the first-team on a Saturday, you may play on a Tuesday so they have to do that, and that’s why we have to be at our highest level of fitness.
“I think at times, we’ve just lacked that little bit of quality and lacked that bit of know-how in our decision making.
They’re young players of course and they have to learn from it, but unfortunately they have to learn fast – not many players make it now at 22, 23, 24, they have to get their foot in the door when they’re 17 or 18.”
Harrison made three changes to the side that pushed Luton all the way to penalties in mid-week with Callum Roberts, Lamin Jagne and Dylan Davidson coming into the side for Mathew Hudson, James Boyd and Adam James Robinson.
The first-half was by far a classic – Roberts had to deal with a couple of half chances from Jones and John McAtee whilst Jonathan Lunney’s shot inside the box was turned away for a corner on 25 minutes.
The visitors took the game to Preston within a minute of the second-half – Jones, with his back to goal spun his marker before firing low and hard past Roberts and into the net.
The response was good from Preston – Oliver Crankshaw who came on for Davidson late in the first-half after the latter was stretchered off with an ankle problem surged down the right flank before firing at the
legs of Charlie Bannister, whilst the shot-stopper had to be alert moments later to save Melle Meulensteen's long-range strike.
North End failed to make their dominance show in the second-half - despite pushing hard for that illusive equaliser they failed to seriously pierce the Town defence with Sean Whelan’s header that narrowed over in the 88th minute marking the closest Preston came to drawing level.
“It was a very poor first-half from both teams really,” analysed Harrison on the weekend’s defeat.
“We had a few lads that played a lot of minutes but that can’t be any excuse. It just looked like one of those games that nothing was really going to happen and there were no clear cut chances.
“We didn’t defend well enough for their goal and it started from us losing possession and when the ball goes into the box, we have to defend it better. It’s really disappointing to lose a goal so early on in the second half but yet again I think the players showed good character to come back and for 40 odd minutes, we were camped in there half.
“We just needed a little bit of quality to put the ball in the back of the net. They put a lot of players behind the ball which is understandable as they’re 1-0 up in the cup, but we just needed that final bit of quality to score which we didn’t have.”
After the two cup exits, the sole focus now for the youth side is the league, and Harrison is keen to build on what’s so far been a promising year going into the business end of the season.
The youth manager continued: “They’ve got to build on the interest that’s been created so far this season and what they’ve achieved because they’re at a football club like Preston North End.
“We’ve still got three months to develop and a lot can happen in three months of football. If you don’t develop, you miss out. It’s a cut throat business and understandably so because the prizes are so high at the highest level whether that be the Premier league, Championship or lower down the leagues. There’s plenty to play for in the season, but more importantly there’s plenty to play for in terms of developing and learning from.”
The games keep coming for the academy side as they travel to Morecambe on Monday. Follow all of the action on Twitter by following ‘@pnefcacademy’.
PNE XI: Roberts, Smith, Whelan, Jagne, Burgoyne (Boyd 53’), A Jo Robinson, Davidson, (Crankshaw 45+’) Meulensteen, Tracey, (Barry 76’) Lunney, Earl