Three glorious goals underlined Preston North End U18s’ dominance as they overcame Port Vale 3-0 at the Northwood Stadium on Saturday morning.
Callum Tait and Harry Garstang put North End in the ascendancy at the break before Alex Wood added some gloss to the scoreline with his effort seven minutes from full-time.
The Lilywhites’ positive performance was evident from the very start, as Tait’s first-time strike from distance stung the Vale goalkeeper’s gloves inside the first minute.
Liam Mottram glanced a header wide for the hosts but it was the visitors that continued to control the play in the opening stages, as Garstang saw a curling effort tipped over the bar shortly before Wood placed one against the crossbar from the right side of the area.
But PNE did take a deserved lead in the 13th minute, as Wood held it up well on the edge of the box and laid it off for the onrushing Tait – his first-time effort this time nestling in the bottom left corner.
Oscar O’Neil might have doubled the lead with a similar chance but placed his strike just over five minutes later, while Charlie Lyons and Callum Roberts made vital interventions at the back for PNE.
And just before the half hour, Garstang put the away side two goals up with another sensational strike from outside the area. The young forward intercepted a clearance mid-flight before firing it into the far corner.
Wood had a great chance to make it three ten minutes later after great work by Ki Smart in the centre, but the winger’s strike was superbly blocked by the Vale goalkeeper.
Roberts was also forced to save in style at the other end for PNE – denying Jack Grimshaw one-on-one – but the two-goal advantage remained at the end of a brilliant half for the visitors.
There was no complacency after the interval, however, as chances continued to flow for PNE – Garstang had two close-range shots saved either side of Mottram firing over for Vale soon after the restart.
Roberts was kept slightly busier in this half, making two saves at his near post before the hour, but North End looked comfortable as Melle Meulensteen, Josh Earl and Mike Howard were all introduced to the action.
Vale substitute Harry Benns tested Roberts with a few long-range strikes, but the PNE goalkeeper was untroubled as the visitors moved towards victory.
However, the Lilywhites did get a third with only seven minutes left – ensuring their level of performance was reflected by the margin of victory. It was Wood – the FA Youth Cup hero of midweek – who scored the final goal, picking up on Howard’s headed flick-on before cutting inside from the right and bending into the far corner in delightful fashion.
Earl was freed in the area in stoppage time after a neat passing move from O’Neil and Meulensteen, but his penalty appeal was dismissed after he was brought down in the area.
That did not matter, though, as PNE secured their joint-biggest win of the season in Stoke-on-Trent.
Understandably, academy manager Nick Harrison was happy with what he saw from the Lilywhites.
“I thought it was a very good team performance and obviously there were a large number of individuals that performed really well as well,” he said.
“We took the goals really well. Our attacking play was good, we put some good balls in the box, got on the end of things and the goals were fantastic finishes.
“As much as we’re pleased that we’ve scored three goals, we’re delighted that we’ve kept a clean sheet. I felt we defended our goal well.
“It’s good for the goalkeeper and the back four, but also good for the other players as well because we’ve scored three goals away from home – good goals as well.”
Although Harrison rotated his team slightly from the midweek FA Youth Cup win against AFC Wimbledon, there were a number of players from that game who were involved again in this victory.
And the academy boss also praised the mentality and fitness levels of his players. He added: “I thought the attitude was good, certainly coming off Wednesday’s game, and we had a few lads who played on Wednesday who put another good shift in.
“It shows that they can do it [play twice a week]. But it’s good to see that because it was a heavy, boggy pitch today.
“We made a number of changes just to protect a few players. Overall, it’s been a good day for those individual players getting minutes under their belts and again putting another good performance in.
“Overall, the team performance was fantastic today. It just shows you what you can do when you’ve got a bit of confidence, and I was delighted with how the lads did today.”
PNE line-up: Roberts, Tait, Stead, Lyons (Day, 76), Campbell, Smart (Meulensteen, 58), O’Neil, Wood, Garstang (Howard, 64), Walker (Earl, 64), Barry. Subs not used: Cottam.