Tom Stead’s first-half header was not enough to preserve Preston North End U18s’ unbeaten run, as Burnley came out 3-1 winners at UCLan Sports Arena on Saturday morning.
The young Lilywhites hadn’t lost any of their last seven matches in normal time and looked set to continue that good record when Stead headed in from a corner after 14 minutes.
However, Burnley had turned the game on its head by half-time with strikes from Tinashe Chakwana and Dwight McNeil before Harry Limb added a late third in the second-half.
Stead’s 14th minute header brought the game to life after a quiet start. The defender met Alex Wood’s superb corner at the back post with a well-placed effort back across goal.
North End might have had a fantastic second minutes later as Harry Garstang struck an instinctive half-volley just wide from distance.
Oscar O’Neil was forced off with a knock midway through the half while Burnley showed some promise down the flanks, with Stead doing well to get in the way of a long-range Burnley effort.
Stead was involved once again at the other end, the opposition goalkeeper this time saving his header towards goal from a Wood free-kick.
Burnley’s threat out wide paid off just after the half hour. Olatunde Bayode’s cross from the right found Tinashe Chakwana in the box who headed into the bottom left corner for the equaliser.
The visitors were lifted by that goal and might have had another in the following five minutes, with Chakwana forcing goalkeeper Callum Roberts into a superb point-blank save before striking a half-volley just wide shortly after.
Burnley did take the lead on the stroke of half-time, though. McNeil shot towards goal from a tight angle on the left side as the ball was helped in at the near post via a slight deflection.
Following that strong finish to the first-half by the visitors, PNE came out the better side after the interval as Mike Howard hooked a volley from the left side just wide of the far post only minutes into the second period.
A few minutes later, North End were unfortunate not to equalise as a Burnley defender met Wood’s corner with a header that bounced just over the crossbar.
Just after the hour mark, following Ethan Walker’s introduction in place of Myles Mason, the hosts were denied a penalty as Leon Creech’s pass sent Howard through on goal, only to be upended by an opposition defender.
McNeil was thwarted by Roberts at the other end in a rare second-half chance for the Clarets, while Ki Smart was challenged at a vital time in the box soon after.
However, the visitors struck on the break with eight minutes remaining. Substitute Harry Limb was played into space through the centre and although Roberts managed to save his initial strike, the ball fell kindly for the striker to net the rebound from just inside the area.
Limb might have had a second in the dying moments with a mazy run forward followed by a well-placed strike against the right post.
Stead threatened to cause damage from a set-piece once again in stoppage-time but was off target as Burnley emerged as 3-1 winners over the Lilywhites.
Academy manager Nick Harrison took encouragement from some elements of his side’s play, but suggested there was a consistency lacking in the whole 90 minutes.
“I thought it was a competitive game and I thought both teams were there to try to win the game and give it a go,” said the youth team boss. “I thought we played well in patches, it’s just disappointing how we conceded the three goals.
“I thought they started stronger than us in the first five-ten minutes. Then we found our way in the game and scored a header from the corner and after that had a decent period.
“I just felt we let them back in and slackened off a little bit, which enabled them to get the second and we found ourselves 2-1 down at half-time.”
Harrison felt there was an improvement in the second-half display but said his side were just missing something in the final third.
“Being in the lead, we probably felt that maybe we’d done enough, but there’s plenty of time in the game for the opposition to come back to you, which they did.
“In the second-half, we actually defended a lot better. I thought we created some good chances but we just needed that final ball, final touch, final pass to be a little bit better to put the ball in the back of the net.
“The goal we conceded in the second-half was just from our error – a really basic error – and again that’s really disappointing.”
The U18s boss said his team need to finish the season strongly in their final match of the campaign, away to Carlisle United on Tuesday.
“For them [the players], they’re thinking about next season; they want to get into our plans and get themselves into the first 11 for the first game, so it’s vital that they finish the season strongly. It’s youth development, they’re still developing.
“We’ve still got one game left and they’ve got to go back on Tuesday and bounce back from this defeat to show how good they are and that they can win games because winning games is what it’s all about.”
Roberts; Creech, Stead, Lyons, Campbell; O'Neil (Ngongo, 23), Smart; Wood, Garstang, Howard (Jolly, 82); Mason (Walker, 62). Subs not used: Cottam, Armer.PNE line-up: