Preston North End U18s will book a place in the FA Youth Cup quarter-finals if they can beat AFC Wimbledon in tonight’s fifth-round tie at Deepdale.
The young Lilywhites reached this stage after a terrific penalty shootout win against Everton following a goalless draw in 120 minutes in PR1 a fortnight ago.
Before then, Nick Harrison’s side had also beaten a higher-ranked category in Sheffield United with a 1-0 home win in November’s third round, and the academy boss is expecting another difficult challenge against the Dons this evening.
“From our perspective, the categories don’t mean anything and we’ve shown that in the games we’ve played in the FA Youth Cup; we’ve beaten a category two team and a category one team,” stressed Harrison.
“We’re expecting a really tough game. Wimbledon have knocked out some really good teams, we’ve watched them a couple of times now and they have some very good players.”
The Lilywhites have only played once since overcoming Everton in the last round, drawing 3-3 at Fleetwood last weekend before Saturday’s clash against Tranmere Rovers was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch.
“It would have been a good opportunity for the boys to get some minutes, get on the pitch and do a bit of preparation work for Wednesday,” he added.
“It’s going to be a fantastic challenge for the players and we know that Wimbledon are going to provide a tough test. They’re just going to have to be individually and collectively at their best.”
North End are yet to concede a goal in this season’s FA Youth Cup and have also kept three clean sheets in five other cup competition matches this term.
And U18s captain Melle Meulensteen says the youth-team camp is in great spirits.
He said: “I’m really confident in the team with the way we’re playing, and the buzz around the team is good. If we go in there with good confidence I think we’ve got a really good chance.
“We want to show that we are a good team and when we work together and dig in, we know we can be a good team and beat teams.”
Like PNE, Wimbledon are a category three academy and come into the game off the back of a 4-0 home triumph over MK Dons on Saturday - that the of an 11-match unbeaten run. They’ve seen off North Greenford United, Bristol Rovers, Huddersfield Town and Hull City to reach this stage.
The winner of this evening’s contest will host Stoke City or Brighton and Hove Albion in the quarter-final later this month.
You can read Harrison and Meulensteen’s pre-match interviews in full in Wednesday’s free edition of The One And Only, available around the ground on the night.
The Sir Tom Finney Stand south will be open for the game, and season ticket holders of both clubs can enter for free on the night. Admission for non-season ticket holders is £4 for adults and £2 for concessions.
There will be live updates on the Academy’s official Twitter page @pnefcacademy throughout the night, and the game will be streamed live on PNE PlayerHD so if you can’t make the game, you’ll be able to watch live with full audio commentary. If you haven't already, you can subscribe to PNE PlayerHD now by clicking here.