Preston North End U18s fought back from two goals down to claim a 2-2 draw at home against Fleetwood Town U18s on Saturday morning.
Dylan Davidson’s penalty in first-half stoppage time halved the visitors lead at the break and Oscar O’Neil’s close range finish earned North End a point 10 minutes from time.
The Lilywhites made a positive start to the match and could have gone ahead twice in the opening minutes, with Melle Meulensteen putting an effort wide before Ki Smart headed just over in the area.
Callum Roberts was called into action in the following moments, as he denied Dan Mooney at the near post before he caught Lewis Baines’ close-range header from a corner.
Tom Stead then headed marginally wide from Meulensteen’s free-kick in what was a sign of things to come, but it was Fleetwood who took the lead just seconds later in the 27th minute.
Mooney latched onto a long ball forward and found himself one-on-one with Roberts in the PNE goal before poking it into the bottom left corner.
PNE responded well, though, and nearly pulled it back immediately. Stead and Meulensteen combined again from the free-kick as the former headed a powerful effort against the crossbar.
It looked the equaliser was just around the corner for the home side but Fleetwood doubled their lead just before the break, as Gerard Garner’s shot from near the halfway line looped into the back of the net in the 45th minute.
However, Josh Earl surged forward straight from the kick-off and earned the Lilywhites a penalty when he was brought down in the box, which Davidson then smashed into the bottom right corner before the whistle blew for half time.
Oscar O’Neil forced the Fleetwood goalkeeper to tip his powerful drive behind for a corner within minutes of the restart, and the midfielder went close again on the hour when Earl’s cross fell to him in the box, but his shot was well blocked.
Davidson then did well to win the ball back in a dangerous area before he raced forward and saw his goal-bound effort tipped over.
The Lilywhites looked to be in the ascendancy but Fleetwood were awarded a penalty in the 66th minute after the forward was brought down but, fortunately, Mooney’s spot-kick bounced off the outside of the post for a goal kick.
Fleetwood had another good chance when Liam Collins found space in the box but Roberts dived low to his right to make a great stop from the midfielder’s low effort.
Earl’s header from Meulensteen’s cross was collected just moments before PNE scored the equaliser in the 80th minute.
It was O’Neil who got the leveller, as Earl teed up Jack Armer to cross and the midfielder tapped in at the back post to make it 2-2.
That was just the beginning of PNE’s intense finish to the game, though, and Earl nearly put the home side ahead minutes later when his right-footed shot drifted past the post.
Substitute Harry Garstang found space a couple of times in the closing moments but was denied by the goalkeeper and his defenders, but it was Mike Howard, who had also come off the bench, who went closest for PNE in the 90th minute.
The winger found space on the right side of the box but his driven effort drifted just past the far post as the Lilywhites were forced to settle for a draw.
Academy boss Nick Harrison was satisfied with his team’s performance. He said: “We actually started the game really well in the first 15 minutes and we could have been two or three nil ahead.
“We just lost our way a little bit after that and had a 20-minute spell when we started making poor decisions on the ball. But for 75 minutes I thought we were very good.
“We scored two at home which should be enough to win the game and we could have had a third at the end, but overall we’re really pleased with the performance and we felt we should have won the game.”
On coming back from 2-0 down, Nick added: “It shows that we are capable of scoring goals and coming back.
“We’ve done it in other games, but we shouldn’t be in that position in the first place and we have to cut out individual errors that are costing the rest of the team, who are working their socks off trying to score goals – which is difficult.
“I thought we did enough in the game to win and we should have done that and kept a clean sheet.”
The academy boss was also pleased to hand starts to some U16s and other recently-injured players against Fleetwood.
He said: “It was brilliant to see some lads make their first starts today and get the full game.
“We’ve had some lads come up from the U16s and some others coming back from bad injuries, so it’s good to have them back in.”