Two first half goals were not enough for Preston North End U18s on Saturday as Morecambe came from behind to beat them 3-2 at the Globe Arena.
Melle Meulensteen and Mike Howard both scored to give the visitors the lead inside 25 minutes, but Morecambe responded to each of those strikes with equalisers before Paul Dawson’s header in first-half stoppage time won it for the hosts.
The young Lilywhites took the lead after just six minutes when Harry Garstang spun on the half-way line, raced through the centre and found the advancing Howard with a defence-splitting pass. When the winger was upended, Meulensteen calmly put the resulting spot-kick straight down the middle.
North End then built on that positive start and might have doubled their lead when the goalscorer found Howard in a similar area just moments later, but the forward’s shot was deflected wide.
But Morecambe drew level in the 15th minute. Goalkeeper Callum Lenton, making his first appearance for the U18s, excellently turned a shot behind for a corner after the hosts won the ball back in a dangerous area, but Dawson headed in at the back post from the resulting set-piece for the home side.
Despite that, North End continued attacking and the threat they carried on the flanks paid off shortly afterwards as they regained their one goal advantage. Howard was at the heart of the action once again, as he cut inside from the left and his shot from outside the box found its way in with the help of a slight deflection.
Again, the Lilywhites looked to be in control, but Lenton was forced to make another great save from Dawson’s free-kick just after the half-hour mark.
Morecambe were then awarded a penalty in the 38th minute, and while Lenton went the right way, Ben Hedley’s effort found the bottom left corner.
North End almost went back in front once more through the lively Howard, who again made his way into the centre but drilled a shot just wide from the edge of the area.
But it was the home side who took the lead for the first time in the game with a similar move to their first goal as Dawson headed in from another corner, only this time from the opposite side.
That was the final act of the first-half but the visitors started brilliantly after the break with Howard playing a major role again. The winger shot wide, was denied one-on-one by the opposition ‘keeper and curled marginally over from the corner of the box all within moments of the restart.
Joe Nelligan shot into the side netting for Morecambe but that was a rare moment of danger for the PNE defence in a dominant spell, as Garstang shot over after a flowing move and Howard drew yet another save from the goalkeeper before the hour.
Tom Barry then headed agonisingly wide from a corner for PNE, who made four attacking substitutes within the space of ten minutes – during which time Morecambe’s Steve Yawson was also well denied by Lenton in a one-on-one situation.
And some of the Lilywhites’ reinforcements went close to equalising, firstly when Myles Mason had a close-range shot deflected wide with his first touch in the 74th minute.
Minutes later, fellow substitute Akwasi Kwateng went even closer to scoring; the versatile 17-year-old heading against the post from Barry’s pinpoint free-kick on the right side.
North End threw men forward in search of an equaliser, but the Shrimps held on for the win.
Academy boss Harrison was frustrated with the result but believed his side had done enough to win the game.
“It was a scrappy game,” he said. “We’re disappointed that we’ve scored two goals and not won the game.
“We felt that we worked hard to score the two goals and we just haven’t defended well enough to stop them from scoring theirs.
“We’ve just conceded some poor goals. We should have dealt with those a lot better.”
But Harrison also pointed out that there were plenty of times during the game where North End looked dangerous in attack.
He added: “I thought in that first period of the game we did well and probably deserved to be at least 2-1 up, if not more.
“In the first ten minutes or so of the second half, we probably had four clear cut chances where we should have put the ball in the back of the net.
“We’ve hit the post later on as well so we probably did enough to win the game, we just needed to put the ball in the back of the net.”
Harrison concluded: “I thought we had a lot of chances throughout the game, and we really should have had enough to win the game.”
PNE line-up: Lenton, Creech (Tait, 66), Stead, Burgoyne, Campbell, Smart (Mason, 74), Meulensteen (Baxter, 66), Wood, Barry, Howard, Garstang (Kwateng, 66). Subs not used: Cottam.