Ten-man Preston North End U18s suffered a 5-2 defeat away to Carlisle United in their final match of the season on Tuesday afternoon.
The Lilywhites started well and deservedly went ahead through Kamol Campbell’s controlled strike after 29 minutes, but the left back's sending off less than ten minutes later proved to be a game-changing moment.
The visitors remained in front until the hour mark but Luke Lloyd and Keiron Hall turned things around soon after, the latter completing a hattrick in the final ten minutes with strikes either side of Josh Dixon’s finish for the Cumbrians.
The hosts kept the ball well early on but the first chance fell for Harry Garstang, who diverted Campbell’s cross goalwards but without troubling goalkeeper Morgan Bacon.
Tom Stead and Callum Roberts made important interventions to prevent Max Cowburn opening the scoring for the hosts on two occasions.
Garstang, this time picking up on Howard’s cross from the right, headed just wide midway through the half.
North End broke the deadlock in the 29th minute. Alex Wood’s through ball allowed Earl to cause havoc down the left side and although Howard hit his pullback against the bar, the rebound fell perfectly for Campbell who lashed it into the bottom right corner.
The visitors were well in control and nearly had a second after 37 minutes, with Earl again creating the space for himself on the left flank but no-one could meet his low delivery across the box.
But only five minutes before half-time, Campbell was shown a red card for an off-the-ball incident.
Despite that, Nick Harrison’s men held onto their lead until the break and looked most likely to score immediately after it, too, as Earl showed his shooting accuracy from range.
Bacon, the Carlisle ‘keeper, was equal to Earl’s first effort from just outside the box but had to pull off a tremendous save to deny him from scoring a splendid free-kick five minutes into the half – the PNE number nine convinced the ball had crossed the line as it bounced off the underside of the bar.
But the hosts came back into it and equalised in the 61st minute. Lloyd was the goalscorer, halting and twisting away multiple times before he finally set himself to slot into the centre of the goal.
Up the other end, Earl forced another long-range save from Bacon with 20 minutes remaining but Carlisle went in front soon after. It was substitute Hall this time on the scoresheet, touching a cross into the net on the goal line.ec
Roberts was forced to turn Hall’s drive behind for a corner with ten minutes left before the hosts hit three in six minutes, as Dixon’s tap-in was sandwiched between two close-range finishes by Hall to complete his hattrick.
Earl curled a wonderful free-kick into the top right corner in stoppage time but that only reduced the margin of defeat, as the Lilywhites ended the season with a 5-2 loss.
Academy manager, Nick Harrison, felt going down to ten men was a key point in the match.
“In the first-half, it probably took us five or ten minutes to get into the game and once we did I thought we really dominated,” he said. “We thoroughly deserved to be 1-0 up and maybe could have sneaked another one, so it was really pleasing to be 1-0 up at half-time.
“Obviously the sending off had a massive impact on the game and we made some naïve decisions in terms of our defending and decisions on the ball which led to them scoring goals. It was a massive turning point because the players had to play a large proportion of the game with ten men and it’s probably something they’re not used to doing.
“We’ve got to make sure we try to equip the players to do that and if they use this game as a learning tool, then brilliant. But we’re disappointed with how we lost the game because it certainly wasn’t a 5-2 game, but our players have got to learn from it.”
On reflection, Harrison felt encouraged by the academy’s season as a whole.
“We had an excellent FA Youth Cup run and the objective is always to produce players, and we’re delighted that three boys have been offered professional contracts at the club. That’s not them ‘making it’ yet, they’ve got to push on now and hopefully make a career of it – that’s the objective.
“We’re delighted with the season, we’ve played the full season with a really young group of players which should stand them in good stead for next season. So we’re pleased with how the players have developed – which is what it’s all about – and we’re looking forward to next season already.
“What’s been pleasing this season is that the first-years have spent most of the year playing games. That should help them for next season. We’ve seen them develop and start to understand real football, getting away from schoolboy football or academy type football. I think that’s why we’re looking forward to next season; to see if they can step up to the next level which is to hopefully get themselves in first team football.”
Roberts, Creech, Stead, Lyons, Armer (Ngongo, 80); Smart, Wood; Howard (Mason, 70), Garstang (Simmons, 52), Campbell; Earl. Subs not used: Cottam.NgongoPNE line-up: