Preston North End’s U18s put in a great performance as they beat Wigan Athletic 2-0 away from home on Tuesday afternoon.
The Lilywhites scored two early first half goals in the Lancashire FA Professional Youth Cup first round tie to hand them victory at Wigan’s Christopher Park.
The PNE youngsters got off to a near perfect start and went ahead after just five minutes.
Tom Barry headed just over from close range whilst Josh Earl hit the first of his several threatening efforts from range just wide in the opening minutes, but it was Dylan Davidson who opened the scoring for PNE.
Mike Howard got the beating of his man on the left and delivered a superb cross for the striker, who headed into the bottom left corner to put the visitors in front.
Davidson then forced the Wigan ‘keeper to save his powerful free-kick before hitting the target again from inside the area moments later, but it was Alex Wood who doubled the Lilywhites’ lead after just 17 minutes.
Howard was involved again as he received a fantastic pass from defender Akwasi Kwateng on the left side. The winger then beat his full-back once more and although his cross was palmed away, Wood found himself in the perfect position to tap in at the back post.
PNE continued to create chances down the left, with Davidson heading and volleying over in quick succession after crosses from Earl and Howard.
Kwateng then headed a Meulensteen free-kick just wide of the near post from the opposite side before Davidson shot over from a loose ball just after.
Wigan began to restrict the visitors’ attack more in the closing stages of the first half but still couldn’t create much, with only one deflected shot close to goal causing the visitors’ defence any genuine concern.
Davidson went close again before the break with his long distance effort going just over, as PNE finished the half as deserved leaders.
They started the second half as the dominant side as well, with Davidson forcing the Wigan ‘keeper to save as the rebound again fell to Wood, who had his effort turned behind for a corner.
Wigan could have got one back soon after though as a wicked cross from the left was deflected onto the crossbar, but PNE continued to provide a greater threat in attack, as Wood went close again. The winger was found in space on the right and only narrowly missed the target, shooting into the near side netting.
Earl and Oscar O’Neil tried their luck from range as the game became more of a battle for possession in midfield. Howard drew a save from the Wigan ‘keeper at his near post before Callum Roberts got down to save from a counter attack at the opposite end in the closing stages of the half.
Just as the result appeared to be sealed, though, Earl very nearly made it three for PNE on two occasions in stoppage time. The left-back hit a vicious shot against the crossbar from some way out before shooting just wide from a similar position seconds later.
However, the game would end as a 2-0 win for the Lilywhites, and manager Nick Harrison commended his players’ response to losing against Hartlepool last time out. He said: “It was a fantastic response. That’s the objective we’ve set for the players – to win – and we felt we performed really well for 90 minutes against Hartlepool despite losing the game. So the objective today was to do the same but to score goals and win it, so we’re pleased with the way the players have reacted.”
Whilst Nick agreed that his side were deserved winners, he wanted to see more from his team in the second half. He added: “I thought it was a game of two halves, the performance in the first half was outstanding and as a team the players worked well together on and off the ball and we thoroughly deserved to be in the lead at half time.
“I thought we started the first 20 minutes of this game at a high pace and really took the game to Wigan and we could have been four or five nil up. The second half was a little bit scrappier, maybe because of the opposition playing better than they did in the first half. Some of the decisions we made on the ball weren’t great, though, and I wasn’t as pleased with the second half as the first.
However, Nick was pleased that his side had conceded so few chances: “We’re really pleased overall, we’re just setting the standards really high. What we want from the boys is to compete for 90 minutes and to work hard on the ball and make the right decisions throughout.
“Maybe we’re asking too much of the players sometimes, but those are the standards that we want because we need to get the players to the next level. We did limit them to having very few chances and we could have got a few more goals ourselves in the second half.
“First and foremost it’s important that we performed well, which we did. The objective is to win the game, though, so we’re delighted we’ve done that to get through to the next round.”