Preston North End’s U18s were held to a 1-1 draw at home by Wigan Athletic on Saturday.
Jack Burgoyne headed the Lilywhites ahead after just 13 minutes, but Mwiya Malumo pulled one back for the visitors within a minute and the home side couldn’t get the winner before the end.
PNE took control in the opening minutes, with Captain Melle Meulensteen making a particularly impressive start to the game. The Dutchman delivered well from set-pieces and also went close himself in the 7th minute, as he placed a left-footed shot just wide after picking up Leon Creech’s cross inside the box.
Meulensteen’s threat from dead-ball situations paid off shortly after, as his curling cross from a free-kick on the left was headed in by Burgoyne to give the home side a deserved lead.
However, Wigan hit back straight away as Malumo ran into the box before slotting a shot into the bottom right corner to make it level again.
PNE seemed unaffected by the visitors’ quick response, though, and continued playing in a positive, attacking manner. Meulensteen was involved again as he supplied a return pass to Kian Smart, whose powerful low shot towards the bottom corner was saved before the captain drove into the area and forced the Wigan ‘keeper to stop his curling effort, too.
Alex Wood then did well to cut inside from the right and unleash a shot close to goal, but his effort was also kept out.
Wigan had a couple of efforts early on but went closer with some counter attacks in the latter stages of the half. Nathan Randell had a shot deflected over after he was teed up on the edge of the box, and Will McGuffie saw his overhead kick comfortably saved from a corner not long after.
Awkwasi Kwateng then headed just over from close range after Josh Earl’s flick-on from a free-kick right at the end of the half.
PNE regained control in the early stages of the second half before the game took an unfortunate turn for the worse, as Lewis Fensome suffered an injury after a strong tackle.
Mike Howard saw his long-range shot swerve just wide of goal, while Randell touched a cross into Roberts’ hands for Wigan with 20 minutes remaining.
Wigan’s Malumo then struck a shot wide before Howard targeted Harry Garstang with a left-wing cross, but the delivery narrowly evaded his teammate.
The Lilywhites pushed forwards towards the end as Smart had a couple of shots blocked from corners, while Oscar O’Neil had a powerful drive deflected over.
However, the best chance came with only seconds remaining. Howard looked for Garstang once again and this time found him with another delivery from the left, but the latter’s glancing header went just past the post as the match ended level.
Despite the result, academy manager Nick Harrison was pleased with his players’ display: “I thought it was a really good local derby game with both teams attacking.
“It was an excellent performance from our group and I thought we shaded the game, especially in the second half when we dominated and created more chances.
“It was quite a typical story of our season so far; we created really good chances but couldn’t quite get that next goal.
“Overall, I was really pleased with each and every player’s performance. As a team, they worked hard both when they were going forward and from a defensive point of view as well.”
On the team’s attacking performance, including the notable threat from set-pieces, Nick added: “We looked threatening from set-pieces, when we got the ball wide and put it in the box and when we were going forward in general. There were just some times when our final pass wasn’t brilliant which meant that we didn’t get a better chance on goal, but we had a really good go at it today.
Nick also gave his thoughts on Wigan’s quick equaliser: “It’s just a lack of concentration and we were really disappointed with that because we certainly deserved the lead, and we had done really well to score from the set piece which had come from some good play.
“We made a couple of errors on the ball after the kick-off, and then when we lost it we just made some poor decisions in terms of defending as a unit – it’s just a lack of concentration. We’re really disappointed because if we didn’t concede, I think we could have gone on to win the game comfortably.”
Overall, though, Nick was happy with what he saw against Wigan: “Everybody performed really well today, both in attack and defence.
“The players have to understand when to attack and what positions to put themselves in, and then when we lose the ball when to press and when to drop back in to make it difficult for the opposition. Every single player did that well individually and we did it well as a team, too.
“We deserved to win and we were better, especially later on in the second half when we had more chances. We should have won the game with the number of chances that we had.”