There was derby day joy for Preston North End U18s on Saturday morning as they overcame rivals Blackpool with a 1-0 win at UCLan Sports Arena.
In a tight game, manager Nick Harrison’s substitutes proved to be decisive as second-half introductions Myles Mason and Ethan Walker combined for the winner five minutes from time – with the latter the goalscoring hero.
The visitors had the better chances to begin with, as PNE were forced to clear an Ewan Bange cross from the left close to goal after five minutes, and Josh Earl had to race back to a make superb last-ditch challenge shortly after.
However, North End grew into the contest as they began to cause Blackpool problems, especially from set-pieces. Tom Stead got a powerful head on Alex Wood’s corner after a quarter of an hour, but was unable to divert goalwards in a strong duel.
Stead connected with another Wood corner midway through the half but again shot just wide, and Earl also narrowly missed the target with his low effort from the edge of the box minutes later.
Harry Garstang then went close with a fantastic piece of improvisation on the volley, but Blackpool ‘keeper Jack Sims was just about equal to the strike from the edge of the area.
Leon Creech was in the right position at the other end just before the half hour, clearing Dylan Sumner’s strike off the line, before the Blackpool striker was denied again by Roberts’ low diving save shortly after.
The home ‘keeper made another impressive stop after 37 minutes, tipping over Alwyn Flynn’s deflected volley from minimal distance.
Earl went close on the stroke of half-time with an intelligent backwards header as he picked up on a clearance from Mike Howard’s chipped cross, but he could only find the side netting, with neither able to break the deadlock in the opening 45 minutes.
PNE were the better side immediately after the break, as Oscar O’Neil glanced a shot just wide of the bottom right corner from distance seconds into the second-half.
Howard then had a superb chance, picking up on Ki Smart’s headed flick-on from a free-kick, but his header was brilliantly saved by Sims from only a few yards out.
Blackpool started to keep more possession soon after that opportunity but were unable to truly threaten the North End goal – with Sebastian Des Pres and Jack Newton coming closest as they dragged their shots wide from outside the box.
The match looked destined to be a draw with chances sparse for both teams – but the arrival of Mason from the bench in the 79th minute proved to be a pivotal moment.
The substitute showed great intent with his direct running in his cameo appearance, and PNE went close four minutes after his introduction when fellow substitute Walker controlled Earl’s exquisite cross-field pass but saw his low effort collected at the near post.
But two minutes later, the hosts did make the breakthrough. Mason drove the team through the centre straight from a Blackpool corner and teed up Walker to his right, who this time shot across the goalkeeper and into the bottom corner for a superb winning goal.
The Lilywhites held on in the final moments for a fantastic derby day victory, and academy manager Harrison was delighted with the result.
“I think I’ve said before we’re capable of competing against any team,” said the youth team boss.
“We say that to the players before the game; we believe in their ability. We think that we can do that to any team that we come up against, but it’s all underpinned by hard work and that’s what we did really well today.
“We worked hard as individuals and worked hard as a team to stop the opposition from scoring, and we’ve got a bit of quality when we need it as well to maybe nick a goal or two. So we’re really pleased with how the team has performed today.”
Harrison also acknowledged the impact of his two substitutions, but he was equally keen to praise the contribution of the whole team in earning the victory.
“It’s fantastic to score at any time and brilliant to get the first goal of the game with five minutes to go and that just made us protect our lead for three or four minutes and we saw the game out.
“We talk about that, the subs coming on, they have to make an impact – that’s their job. But it’s about all the players, the players who started the game, the players who finished the game and not just the ones who came on.
“But we’re delighted with how they made an impact and delighted with how the players then galvanised together to protect that 1-0 lead.”
PNE line-up: Roberts; Creech, Day, Stead, Lyons; Smart, O’Neil; Wood (Mason, 79), Garstang, Howard (Walker, 57); Earl. Subs not used: Campbell, Cottam, Barry.