Preston North End U18s earned a fourth consecutive home win as they overcame Bury 2-0 on Saturday morning.
The two sides played out a well-contested opening half but the Lilywhites took control after the interval, taking the lead through Harry Garstang’s sensational lob before Melle Meulensteen doubled the advantage with a typically cool penalty midway through the second-half.
It was a tight start but Bury had the better opportunities early on, with Joe Adams shooting wide from range before Callum Roberts held on to Nathan Turner’s header inside five minutes.
North End grew into the game though and Jack Burgoyne almost put them in front after 17 minutes, the defender doing everything right with a free header but it was scrambled off the line.
Harry Garstang almost connected with a pinpoint Alex Wood delivery ten minutes later while the visitors threatened to run clear of the home side’s backline at the other end, but centre-back Callum Tait showed great awareness to cut out several threatening crosses.
The best opportunity of the opening period came on the stroke of half-time as Mike Howard did superbly well to spin on the halfway line and race all the way to the left byline, where his cross was met by Garstang with a header against the crossbar.
Bury were a little quicker out of the blocks once again in the second-half as Adams shot straight at Roberts before Bury forward Rob Harker blazed marginally over one-on-one.
The hosts soon came back into it though and took a deserved lead in the 56th minute. Roberts’ kick travelled all the way through to Garstang, the forward reacting quickest to dink the bouncing ball over visiting goalkeeper Cameron McCulloch from just outside the area.
Just six minutes later North End hit the woodwork for a second time, as substitute Tom Stead powered a header against the crossbar from Meulensteen’s corner.
The Lilywhites did get their second shortly after in the 66th minute. Garstang was brought down by McCulloch after racing clear, with Meulensteen then stepping up to convert the resulting spot-kick into the bottom left corner.
The hosts managed the game well in the following moments although Cameron Hill might have pulled one back for Bury with less than 15 minutes remaining, side-footing wide from an open goal. Howard headed wide soon after at the other end from a good position in the box.
Callum Hulme also went close for the away side, forcing Roberts to tip a strike over the bar from the edge of the area, before his Bury teammate Will Osgathorpe was sent off for two yellow cards in quick succession with ten minutes left.
That allowed North End some extra control as Oscar O’Neil and substitute Myles Mason both shot off target in the latter stages, and Meulensteen curled a free-kick just over deep into stoppage time.
But two goals were more than enough for Nick Harrison’s side to clinch a thoroughly deserved victory, and the academy boss was particularly pleased to see his players keep a clean sheet.
“I thought it was a competitive game with two teams trying to win,” Harrison explained. “I’m made up, first and foremost, that we’ve kept a clean sheet because that’s something we felt we should have done better on Tuesday against Walsall.
“I thought we started slowly but certainly after 15-20 minutes we did really well and we just got better and better.”
“I think as the game went on, we just got better and better and probably could have scored a couple more towards the end. We’re really pleased with how the lads worked hard and performed today.”
Harrison also praised his side’s two goalscorers on the day.
“Melle’s penalties have been brilliant overall and he’s got a cool head to keep slotting them in the back of the net.
“I thought Harry’s goal was fantastic, it just shows what quality he’s got. We got a bit fortunate with the ball skipping through but he was the first to it and it was a fantastic lob with the ‘keeper rushing out.
“That’s the quality bit that, if we keep adding that to our game and players keep chipping away with goals, then I think we can go on and win many more games which is what we want the players to do.”
The victory continued the youth team’s fine end of season form and with so many first-year scholars involved, Harrison hoped his players can carry that momentum into next season.
“That’s their objective and that’s what we want them to do. We want them to get as much experience playing against some older boys and for them to understand what the league is all about.
“It’s up to them next season – if they work hard and show the quality that they’ve got – the challenge for them is to win as many games as they can next season.
“I think it’s brilliant for them at the moment that they’re getting the game time and getting used to playing as a group.”
PNE line-up: Roberts; Creech, Tait (Stead, 53), Burgoyne, Campbell; Smart, O’Neil; Wood, Meulensteen, Howard; Garstang (Mason, 67). Subs not used: Cottam, Baxter, Barry.