It was honours even at Poolfoot Farm on Saturday morning as Preston North End U18s drew 3-3 with Fleetwood Town.
North End had soared into a 3-1 lead at the break with strikes from Mike Howard, Harry Garstang and Myles Mason, but Gerard Garner and Dominic Kerrigan’s second-half efforts levelled matters within 20 minutes of the restart.
A much-changed Lilywhites side started well and went ahead just four minutes in, with Howard heading in at the back post from Tom Barry's corner on the right.
Young goalkeeper James Cottam was making his first start for the U18s and impressed early on, making some decent saves to deny Fleetwood’s Dan Mooney, and Jack Bishop volleyed over for the hosts soon after in a lively first 15 minutes.
North End doubled their lead after 18 minutes, with Barry the provider once again as he set up Garstang up on the edge of the box – the forward converting with a superbly controlled first-time effort into the bottom left corner
Fleetwood responded five minutes later as Mooney controlled Gerard Garner’s through ball and fired into the top corner from the left side of the area.
The visitors looked threatening every time they got forward but showed good concentration at the back as well, with Cameron Day making a number of key interceptions as the half went on.
But that attacking impetus paid off for a third time on 34 minutes. Barry provided the final pass once more after winning the ball back inside Fleetwood’s box, and he squared it for Mason at the far post who showed great composure to score.
It was a great half for the Lilywhites who went in with that two-goal advantage at the break, and they looked the better side after the interval as well.
Alex Wood replaced Mason early in the second-half and after Mooney had chipped a shot just wide at one end, PNE attacked at the other, with the substitute seeing his cross deflected over after patient build-up play from the away team.
But Fleetwood pulled a goal back just before the hour, as Garner glanced a header in at the near post from a corner on the right.
The hosts equalised soon afterwards in the 63rd minute, with Kerrigan slotting into the bottom left corner with a low first-time finish.
PNE weathered with a brief storm as Jack Burgoyne made a particularly vital clearance, but North End looked more likely to find a winner in the final 20 minutes.
The ever creative Barry showed great strength to lay the ball off for Garstang on the edge of the box again, but his shot this time curled over the crossbar.
Howard showed good pace on the left before he was forced off injured with 15 minutes left, and after Cottam had made another good stop to keep things level, Dylan Davidson – one of the visitors’ second-half reinforcements – powered forwards to earn PNE a free-kick. Oscar O’Neil delivered well for Garstang but his shot was deflected wide.
Another North End substitute made an essential intervention in the final minutes as well, though, as Tom Stead cleared off the line ensuring the score remained level at the end of this lively encounter.
Academy boss Nick Harrison outlined his satisfaction with his side’s start to the game.
“I thought we started well and we deserved to be 3-1 up,” he said. “I thought our young goalkeeper made some very good saves in the first-half.
“I thought we did well and we created some good chances. We scored good goals.”
Harrison also explained his decision to rotate from the side which eliminated Everton from the FA Youth Cup on Wednesday.
He said: “We just made the changes because obviously Wednesday was tough in the FA Youth Cup, and we had a number of lads who played 120 minutes.
“We felt it was a good opportunity to give other players an opportunity who weren’t involved on Wednesday.
“I think we’ve got some positive players in the final third and they certainly showed in the first half that they can do that [make an impact].”
“Overall, rather than specify certain individuals, I thought the team did really well in the first-half.”
The academy boss also agreed that, after such a brilliant result and performance against Everton last time out, the challenge for his players is to produce those displays consistently.
He added: “We certainly should have had enough on the pitch to see the game out being 3-1 up.
“They’re looking to get to the next level and the professional level; you’ve got to do it week in, week out, whether you’ve played 120 minutes, 90 minutes or you’ve played every game for two months. That’s something the players have got to learn and develop at.”
PNE line-up: Cottam, Tait (Creech, 62), Day, Burgoyne, Campbell, O’Neil, Garstang, Mason (Wood, 47), Barry, Howard (Stead, 75), Kwateng (Davidson, 66). Subs not used: Roberts.