Preston North End U18s came from behind to beat Carlisle United 4-1 in the Youth Alliance Cup on Saturday, but it wasn't enough for them to progress to the next round of the competition.
Jack Egan’s early opener put the home side ahead at the break before Mike Howard and Harry Garstang scored a brace each in a fantastic second half performance.
The first half was an evenly contested one for the most part, but Carlisle took the lead after nine minutes. Luke Lloyd’s pass found Egan in the box as the striker shot low into the bottom right corner to make it 1-0.
Josh Earl and Melle Meulensteen led the rally for a PNE equaliser, as the former rounded the ‘keeper before the offside flag denied him in the 15th minute.
Max Cowburn then volleyed wide for the home side before Meulensteen intercepted close to goal, but his placed shot was saved.
North End ‘keeper Callum Roberts then did well to tip a deflected shot behind for a corner at his near post.
Carlisle might have scored a second in the final seconds of the half but as Egan cut inside from the left, his curling effort hit the crossbar.
North End took full control after the break and half time substitute Mike Howard was unfortunate not to score with one of his first touches, as he glanced a header wide of the far post from Meulensteen’s floated delivery in the 49th minute.
Howard went even closer in the next minute as his shot from a corner was blocked after Dylan Davidson had seen his effort tipped over seconds earlier.
Tom Stead powered a header goalwards from another corner which was stopped by a quick reaction save, and the home side’s ‘keeper had to race off his line to prevent Garstang from racing through just after the hour.
PNE created their best opening of the match in the 70th minute as Garstang drove down the right flank and found Howard in the box with a pinpoint delivery, but the substitute was somehow denied as the ‘keeper smothered the ball.
However, Howard did get the equaliser just a minute later. The winger cut inside from the left and the goalkeeper couldn’t prevent his powerful strike from going in at the near post.
PNE completed the turnaround in the 80th minute when Davidson’s cross to the left was headed back across goal by Howard for Garstang to tap in from close-range.
Garstang netted another just two minutes later as he met Davidson’s accurate right-wing delivery with an exceptional glancing header in the 82nd minute.
Howard almost extended the lead in the 86th minute when he chipped into the side netting from Oscar O’Neil’s excellent through ball, and Garstang was then denied a hattrick after racing into the box and seeing his shot saved.
PNE did get their thoroughly deserved fourth in added time, though, as Howard’s initial effort was parried straight back to him for a tap in.
That made it a 1-4 win at the final whistle and although the result was enough for PNE to go ahead of Carlisle in their Youth Alliance cup group, only group winners Hartlepool will progress to the next round after they beat York in the other match.
Academy manager Nick Harrison focused on the victory and he was delighted with his team’s superb second half display: “I thought we did excellently well in the second half – we deserved to be winners and probably could have scored more goals.
“I’m delighted with how the game panned out and I thought there were some outstanding performances today.”
Harrison was also pleased with his players’ improvement in the second half. He added: “We thought it was a poor first half performance from ourselves and we obviously changed a few things around at half time and reiterated what the objective of the game was.”
“We could have scored a couple in the first half as well but we just didn’t move the ball quickly enough and made some poor decisions on the ball, but the second half was a completely different game and I felt all of the players were very good.”
The academy boss believed his team were always capable of getting back into the game and said: “We’ve got that character within us to come back because we’ve done it so many times in other games – what we’ve not done is go on to win the game.
“We always knew that we had the chance to come back, but we challenged the players to go on and win it and I think they did that brilliantly.
Harrison continued: “I think this has been a long time coming and there’s a lot more in this group – we’ve got a very good group of players.
“I think we’ve probably deserved that kind of score in lots of other games but we’ve not always been able to put the ball in the back of the net.
“Our deliveries into the box were much better today, especially in the second half and our movement was very good. We had that desire and devilment to stick it in the back of the net.”