Preston North End U18s’ couldn’t make their dominance count as they drew 1-1 away against ten-man Accrington Stanley on Saturday.
The Lilywhites took a deserved lead through Ethan Walker’s fine individual goal in the 12th minute, but they couldn’t add to that and were pegged back by Joel Mills’ 31st minute equaliser before the hosts lost Jack Burgess to a second yellow card with around 25 minutes remaining.
Walker showed his quality on both flanks early on as a couple of inviting crosses went untouched before he put North End ahead after 12 minutes. Oscar O’Neil and Harry Garstang drove the visitors forward before a loose ball fell to the winger on the left, where he jolted past a defender into the area and unleashed a fierce strike into the near top corner.
Melle Meulensteen fired a half-volley narrowly over from distance and Garstang had a deflected free-kick saved before 20 minutes had passed, and the former almost set up Charlie Lyons from a corner at the half’s midpoint, but his header back across goal went just wide.
North End continued to control proceedings and Accrington’s first chance didn’t come until the half hour, where Callum Roberts made a terrific save low at his near post to deny Mills from close-range after a cross from the right.
However, the hosts went one better with a similar move down the right a minute later. Roberts made a terrific effort to block the shot from minimal distance, but Mills’ effort was just too powerful as it bounced over the line for 1-1.
Meulensteen then curled a free-kick just wide after Accrington’s Burgess had been shown yellow for a cynical foul on Myles Mason, but the score remained level at half-time.
The second period started more evenly, as Accrington began to hold onto the ball in midfield and tested Roberts with a couple of strikes from distance within minutes of the restart.
However, the Lilywhites remained a threat and might have regained their lead after 55 minutes when Lyons’ sliding challenge set Walker on his way for a terrific counter attack, but Garstang put his left-wing cross wide.
Tom Barry replaced Mason just before the hour, and one of his first contributions saw Accrington’s Burgess sent off for a second bookable offence after a foul against him on the edge of the box.
North End took the initiative from then on and Lyons’ header from Meulensteen’s resulting free-kick was cleared off the line.
Walker nearly got his second on 74 minutes after creating space for himself well on the left, but his shot was saved at the near post.
Garstang had an effort tipped around the post before Leon Creech on the volley and Barry with his head were also denied, with PNE hammering the opposition goal in the final ten minutes.
O’Neil showed great vision in those closing moments, setting up Garstang, Meulensteen and Barry for scoring opportunities in the box, with all three drawing saves from the goalkeeper.
North End had a scare late on as well after being caught in possession at the back, but a long-range lob from the right drifted just wide of the far post.
It ended 1-1, and while academy manager Nick Harrison acknowledged the number of chances his team created, he was left wanting more with the result.
“It’s pleasing that we were the better side and we did dominate the game, but you have to learn to win games,” explained Harrison.
“We should be winning these kinds of games and by a good score if you look at that game today, but that’s what the players have got to learn; that those final passes and final touches are as important as anything we do on the pitch.
It’s just that final bit of detail; stroking the ball in the back of the net, having a better header and making better contact with the ball.”
Despite that, Harrison praised his team’s attitude in the game. He added: “I thought the lads kept going throughout the game. The work ethic against an awkward, difficult opposition – because Accrington work
hard and made it difficult for us – was very good and we didn’t stop.
“We maybe dispute their goal a little bit because our lads thought it was offside, but we can’t see that on the video and we really shouldn’t be talking about their goal – we should have won the game by three or four really.”
“We had chances to put the ball in the back of the net with headers and putting balls into the box, but the lads never stopped going.”
The draw made it seven games unbeaten for Harrison’s men, but the manager now wants his players to turn draws into victories.
He said: “Our players are capable of anything – it’s something I keep saying about them.
“We know that they work hard and that we have good players, and it’s great that they’ve gone seven games unbeaten, but we’d like to say that we’ve won seven games rather than drawn four and won a couple. We’ve got to win those games and the players have got to learn that.”
PNE line-up: Roberts, Creech, Burgoyne, Day, Lyons; Meulensteen, O’Neil; Wood, Garstang, Walker; Mason (Barry, 59). Subs not used: Tait, Cottam, Campbell, Kwateng.