Preston North End U18s played out a goalless draw away at Wrexham on Saturday morning.
The Lilywhites created some good opportunities during the game and looked more and more likely to find a winner as the contest went on, but in truth, this was an encounter that did not present many major chances to either side.
Nick Harrison’s side kept possession relatively well early on but the threat was limited to no more than that by the hosts’ intense pressing style, although centre-backs Tom Stead and Charlie Lyons were equally untroubled at the other end through some sound defensive work.
There was no genuine opportunity to be had until the 19th minute when Wrexham’s Niall Freeman worked it to Stefan Buckley on the left side of the area – only for the forward to place over the bar.
That led to a more eventful end to the half as PNE goalkeeper Callum Roberts held on to a long-range effort by Freeman, before Mike Howard made a brilliant run down the right flank – but it was to no avail.
At that point, however, North End started to take control and were unfortunate not to take the lead in the 26th minute as Stead headed Melle Meulensteen’s free-kick from deep on the left against the bottom of the right-hand post.
Ki Smart was then on hand to block some goalbound Wrexham efforts before Freeman shot wide from a good position on the right.
Meulensteen chased a long ball forward and would have rounded goalkeeper Owen Kirkham but for an important challenge by a Wrexham defender just before the half hour.
More good work by the PNE captain presented a half chance to Ethan Walker with less than ten minutes until half-time, but the young winger’s looping half-volley went marginally over after he controlled well just outside the box.
That would be the final chance of the half with the visitors finishing it the stronger, but again, it was Wrexham that had the first scoring opportunities after the break.
Tommy Creamer drove a low strike wide from distance before Buckley hit a first-time, side-foot effort over from just wide of the penalty spot.
The Lilywhites began to create the better chances though and could have breached Wrexham’s goal on the hour when Stead found Howard on the right, and as the winger cut back onto his left foot, his low strike towards the bottom right corner was well saved by Kirkham.
Howard was picked out on the same flank by Meulensteen’s quick free-kick minutes later but saw his cross cleared.
Superb work by second-half substitute Harry Garstang led to what was perhaps the best chance of the match in the 70th minute. He evaded several opponents on the left to break into the box and pull it back perfectly for Myles Mason, but unluckily, he mishit his first-time effort and Wrexham cleared.
Garstang almost made the breakthrough himself ten minutes from time but was again denied by Kirkham after his scissor kick volley from close-range on the left.
The visitors certainly looked the more likely to find a winner in the final moments but as long-range efforts by Stead and Kamol Campbell drifted wide, the match came to a close at 0-0.
The result did at least make it an unbeaten March for the young Lilywhites, who haven’t conceded a goal during their four matches this month, either.
Assistant manager Andy Fensome praised the team’s strong finish to the game but suggested that there should have been a victory to match.
“For the last 35 minutes, we dominated the game,” he said. “It is disappointing we haven’t won.
“In that time, I thought we were excellent, very positive, and always on the front foot. We won the second balls that we weren’t winning first-half and really should have gone on to win the game.
Fensome explained that while the Lilywhites had chances to win the game, scoring goals can sometimes be a challenge.
“In the first-half, we were second to the ball at times. I always felt that the lads were more than comfortable to actually go and win the game, I just didn’t think that we were quite on top of things like should we have been.
“Scoring goals is not easy. We scored three great goals against Wrexham last week and should have had six, seven or eight. We didn’t, so this week you come to the game and they have looked at some things while we’ve worked on finishing and our crossing and things like that.
“At times, it’s not easy in the heat of the battle. We had those chances and you just need to have a bit of quality to take them.”
However, as well as the positive display towards the end of the contest, Fensome took some consolation from the number of younger players – including a wealth of first-year scholars and U16s – in a game which saw PNE keep their fourth consecutive clean sheet.
“We haven’t conceded, so we keep the run going. We’re looking at trying to win games, but we’re looking at playing well at the same time.
“As the season goes on, we’ll try to integrate the younger boys a lot more. We felt it was right today to play a younger team, but that’s no excuse for not winning the game.”
PNE line-up: Roberts; Wood, Stead, Lyons, Campbell; Smart, O’Neil; Howard, Meulensteen, Walker (Garstang, 52); Mason. Subs not used: Armer, Cottam, Ngongo, Brannigan.