A Tom Barry hat-trick saw PNE U18s claim the spoils in a 3-1 victory over Fleetwood Town.
Barry's first – a close range finish at the near post which saw Preston take the lead after 20 minutes, but the Cod Army responded through Mamadou Djabi who broke free in the PNE box to poke home past the out-stretching Callum Roberts.
Quick feet in the box from Adam Joseph Robinson on the stroke of half-time saw the left back tripped, and despite staying on his feet, the ref pointed to the spot to the credit of the man in black.
Dylan Davidson took the spot-kick, and although his effort was saved, Barry in typical forward fashion pounced on the rebound to give the Lilywhites the lead once again.
10 minutes into the second-half, Barry sealed his hat-trick, scrambling the ball into the net after Fleetwood failed to clear a corner, and manager Nick Harrison was quick to credit the marksman for his goals.
“He’s a very good player and that’s what he’s capable of,” said the boss. “That’s hopefully the start of a lot more, and we’re really pleased with him.
“He’s got every chance of making that position his own, but we’ve got to remember he’s a young player and he’s going to have lots of ups and downs.
“It’s how he reacts when he doesn’t score, but he’s a good player and he showed that today, and that’s why he’s got the three goals. He’s got players behind him in the U15s and U16s who will push him and players within the group up for that striker’s position so he’s got to push himself in every game.”
Speaking on the game as a whole, he continued: “For the first part of the game, we should have had full control of it, and should have been four or five up with the chances we’ve had, but obviously we conceded and that sometimes happens in football but I thought the lads showed excellent attitude and character to get themselves in front before half-time again so the message was to just keep going and to make sure we just didn’t lose our concentration.”
It wasn’t all cut and dry for Preston - with 15 minutes remaining the Lilywhites were dealt a blow when Freddie Tracey was forced off injured, and with North End already making all three allotted subs, Harrison’s troops were forced to play the final quarter with just 10 men.
Unsurprisingly, Fleetwood tried to take advantage by pressurising the Preston defence, but the youngsters held on for what Harrison described a ‘solid’ victory.
He added: “The lads have got to show they can adapt to certain situations because that’s what they’ve got to do in a first-team environment.
“It was pleasing to see the organisation of the players when we went down to 10 men. We even had chances to score during that period, so we weren’t concerned despite losing a man, because we know the lads can step up and play in different ways.
“They’ve controlled the game for much of the 90 minutes, but have also dug deep when required and that’s what we’re after from the players.”
It’s a quick turnaround for the U18s now with Carlisle United next up for Preston in the Youth Alliance Cup at Chorley, and North End and Harrison will be looking to end what’s turning out to be an excellent January after beating Exeter City in the FA Youth Cup last time out.
“It’s been a good start to 2016, we’ve had some good results and performances,” analysed Harrison.
“The lads have taken on board information given to them at the Christmas break and they’ve applied it on the pitch - Performances have been good, individually and as a team.
“Winning’s a good habit to get into and long may that continue, and hopefully we can keep that going in the Cup game on Tuesday.”
All are welcome to watch North End’s next generation in action this Tuesday in the Youth Alliance Cup against Carlisle with PNE looking to book their place in the Northern semi-finals.