Preston North End U18s fought back from two goals down to hold league leaders Walsall to a 2-2 draw on Saturday.
The Lilywhites conceded twice within the first five minutes but significantly improved thereafter, with Melle Meulensteen’s penalty shortly before the break and Cameron Day’s second-half effort enough to secure a point.
There was enough time for Tom Stead to clear off the line before Walsall, first in the North West Youth Alliance, took the lead in the second minute. Callum Cockerill-Mollett was teed up just inside the area as he fired a low shot into the far right corner.
The home side doubled their advantage only three minutes later when Daniel O’Sullivan found space behind the North End defence and slotted his effort into the same corner.
The away team grew into the game, though, and started to find their rhythm after about 20 minutes when Mike Howard adjusted himself well to volley towards goal, but his effort was well stopped.
Melle Meulensteen hooked a volley over the bar minutes later while Akwasi Kwateng and Josh Earl threatened to create something for the visitors, but the breakthrough came in the 40th minute.
It was Kwateng again in the dangerous area, and the versatile youngster – featuring as a striker in this game – earned North End a penalty when he was brought down. Meulensteen placed the spot-kick down the middle to halve the deficit at half-time.
PNE were largely the better side after the break although Walsall could have regained their two-goal lead minutes after the restart, as Tobias Hayles-Docherty dragged a shot wide from a promising position.
Meulensteen tried his luck a few more times as he hit a long-range shot and a header from Kamal Campbell’s cross over the bar.
The Lilywhites were in the ascendancy but had to maintain their concentration at the back, and Leon Creech did just that with a vital challenge to deny Walsall’s attacker a shooting chance in the box.
That proved doubly important, as PNE drew level just four minutes later. Substitute Harry Garstang had won the corner with a relentless chase towards the goalkeeper, and U16 defender Cameron Day then flicked on Meulensteen’s delivery to score in the 71st-minute.
And Tom Stead looked like he might have won it for North End with little more than ten minutes left, but his header looped just over.
The visitors kept possession well in the closing stages but had to keep Walsall out, too, with Campbell and Roberts making some particularly vital interventions before Joseph Cairns scooped a shot over.
It remained 2-2, though, and although his side had earned a decent away point, academy boss Nick Harrison had mixed thoughts about the result.
He said: “I am pleased that we got a point and I felt as the game went on, certainly for 60 or 65 minutes, we were the better team. We passed it well, created some chances and I thought we dug in a lot more.
“It’s obviously a disappointment that we didn’t do that from the start, which is something we’ve talked about in the changing room.
“We were up against it and we were 2-0 down after ten minutes, so it showed a bit of character for them to come back, but you can’t start games like that.
Harrison expanded on his disappointment about the team’s performance in the opening minutes of the game, saying: “We had a tough start and I thought we weren’t at it for probably the first 20 minutes.
“No matter who you play against, the opposition are going to try and hurt you by scoring goals and we have to stand up to that from minute one.
“I think if we had done that, from what we saw in the second half and the latter stages of the first half, we would have gone on to win it. So while we’ve come away with a point, we really should have come away with three points.”