Preston North End U18s would have left the North East on Saturday wondering how they managed to suffer a 3-0 defeat against Hartlepool United.
The young Lilywhites went behind from Hartlepool’s first attack but went on to dominate the game and create a wealth of chances. However, they couldn’t get back into the game as the home side punished them with some efficient attacking play in what was PNE's second group game of the FA Youth Alliance Cup.
Hartlepool took the lead less than 30 seconds into the game. Liam Travers evaded a couple of challenges on the right and when he got into the area, his shot was deflected in past goalkeeper Callum Roberts.
The visitors responded quickly, though, and might have equalised immediately. Mike Howard tapped a Melle Meulensteen free-kick into the side netting before Alex Wood tricked his way into the area and had his goal-bound effort blocked.
PNE started to dominate possession and came close from another Meulensteen set-piece. Akwasi Kwateng almost connected with the midfielder's corner before the ball fell to Lewis Fensome, who shot just wide from close range after picking up the loose ball.
Josh Earl had his header saved from another set-piece opportunity and Kwateng headed wide from another corner shortly after.
Hartlepool hadn’t created many chances since scoring but remained a threat, as Kian Smart was alert to intercept a dangerous cross, and Roberts then had to make an excellent save from Josh Hawkes’ effort at the near post.
PNE upped their game once again in the final minutes of the half, though. Howard cut inside and crossed for Wood who volleyed just over and Dylan Davidson then put his effort over the bar after facing the ‘keeper one on one.
Meulensteen hit one shot wide and placed another just over before Earl headed another of his free-kicks just wide. Tom Barry then found space in the area and got his effort on target, but Hartlepool ‘keeper Ryan Catterick was equal to the shot.
PNE then started the second half as they finished the first and Fensome went close as he headed another Meulensteen delivery just over.
Hawkes then had a shot deflected wide from inside the area as before the Lilywhites got in behind the hosts’ defence again at the other end, as Howard controlled superbly on his chest before shooting over.
However, Hawkes got another shooting chance just after the hour and the midfielder put Hartlepool 2-0 up. He finished well from inside the area to find the bottom left corner of Roberts’ goal. The hosts were then denied their third goal as Roberts collected a glancing header across goal from a corner.
Wood saw his shot from the edge of the area drift narrowly over not long after, but PNE would have known it wasn’t their day when Barry was denied moments later.
The Lilywhites attacker connected perfectly with a superb Earl cross but his header was somehow deflected away. Even more frustratingly, the visitors then saw Fensome’s effort cleared off the line from the resulting corner.
PNE tried to pull a goal back until the very end, but it was Hartlepool who would score again in stoppage time. Hawkes had a shot well saved by Roberts but Jon Weirs picked up the ball for a simple tap in, sealing a 3-0 win for Hartlepool.
Despite the result, manager Nick Harrison was generally pleased with his side’s display: “I thought the performance for about 75 minutes was very good. We dominated possession even though we were 1-0 down after the first minute of the game. We passed and moved the ball well, switched the play and created lots of chances.
“It was 3-0 because we didn’t take our chances and they took theirs, they probably only had four or five during the whole game. We had 15 or 16 chances but haven’t scored, and the chances we had were good ones – from one on ones, going across the box, from two yards out and putting it over the bar. I think if we had taken them we would have been on our way home as comfortable winners.
“We’ve got good players in the box who should be able to get on the end of things and put the ball in the net, so it wasn’t an unfair result, but we certainly feel that the scoreline wasn’t a reflection of our performance.”
Nick also explained why he thought his team hadn’t scored and why goals were conceded at the other end: “It’s probably just the decisions that the players are making when they’ve got to cushion or head the ball in. It’s about making those key decisions at the right times and we’re going to have to keep working on that by showing players the video analysis and working with them mentally.
"I think we’ll still create chances but everybody looks at the result. If the boys are going to have a bit of individual and collective success they’ve got to score goals and win games.
“It was individual mistakes for their goals. We’ve not defended well for the first one and haven’t really defended an individual duel well from the first minute of the game, and the second one is the same. We spoke about it after the game because that’s what has cost us today.”