Preston North End U18s were denied a place in the Lancashire FA Youth Cup Final by Bury on Tuesday afternoon, as a goalless 90 minutes was followed by a 4-3 penalty shootout defeat.
In an entertaining game with chances for both sides, the visitors emerged victorious in the shootout thanks to a couple of terrific penalty saves by goalkeeper Cameron McCulloch.
Bury saw plenty of the ball in the opening stages but it was the Lilywhites who created more opportunities, with Leon Creech’s direct wing play nearly resulting in a goal via a deflection from his cross on the right in the fifth minute.
Cameron Day went close with a header in the 15th minute after McCulloch had parried Melle Meulensteen’s free-kick, but the Bury ‘keeper held on to his effort.
Nathan Turner tried his luck from distance a couple of times soon after, with PNE stopper Callum Roberts saving low before another shot curled just over.
Josh Earl was then denied from close-range at the other end in a frantic couple of minutes.
Harry Garstang connected with Meulensteen’s superb through ball down the left midway through the half, putting a first-time lob just wide before Earl threatened again.
Playing on the left of a front two, Earl struck just wide from outside the box before then being denied one-on-one – courtesy of another Meulensteen pass – in the 27th minute.
It was Mike Howard’s turn to test McCulloch six minutes later, as he controlled Garstang’s pass and forced the Bury ‘keeper to tip his shot towards the bottom right corner behind.
Oscar O’Neil’s first-time effort from the resulting corner was held before Garstang curled over four minutes before the break, with the half finishing goalless.
North End picked up where they left off after the interval as Garstang placed a shot just over inside the box within moments of the restart.
However, Roberts had to maintain his concentration in the PNE goal, and he crucially did just that in the 51st minute as he held on to Turner’s header from point blank range.
Earl’s shot trickled through McCulloch’s legs and wide at the other end as the two teams passed through a rare, albeit brief, dry spell in terms of chances after the hour.
The visitors did have a number of efforts during that period but gave Roberts little cause for concern.
North End upped the intensity again in the latter moments of the game, with Earl’s header being tipped over the bar from a corner eight minutes from time before substitute Dylan Davidson had his shot saved
five minutes later.
Melle Meulensteen then struck the post from a tight angle in time added on after a superb passing move from the hosts.
However, the score was unchanged, meaning a penalty shootout was required to separate the sides.
Bury netted all four of their penalties and while Creech, Davidson and Earl all put their spot-kicks away, Meulensteen and second-half substitute Charlie Lyons – who both hit the target with their efforts – were
denied by excellent saves from Bury’s McCulloch.
The result brings PNE’s Lancashire FA Youth Cup campaign to an end, while Bury will now go on to face Blackpool in the final.
Academy manager Nick Harrison was pleased with elements of his team’s play, but felt the match should have been over within 90 minutes.
“We should have won the game in 90 minutes,” declared the youth team boss. “Certainly in the first-half, we had three or four really clear chances.
“There were one-on-ones with the ‘keeper – through some good play. I thought we played really well; passed the ball, opened them up and we probably should have been three or four nil up in the first-half.”
“Penalties is just a way to get to a finish in terms of going through. We’re obviously disappointed; we’ve had experience of winning through penalties. But the game shouldn’t have gone to penalties because we should have taken our chances, which we had plenty of during the game.”
Harrison was satisfied to keep a clean sheet, though, and suggested the performance was emblematic of recent displays.
“I think we’ve been playing like that for a number of weeks. We’ve dominated many games during the course of the season and a lot have gone that way where we’ve just not had that killer instinct in front of goal.
“We’re obviously really pleased that we kept a clean sheet in 90 minutes because we know that Bury have some threats up front, and we felt that we dealt with those well. If we keep clean sheets then we have to put the ball in the back of the net at the other end.
“We dominated the game and passed it really well, but when we needed to we quickened things up and opened them up as well. We made good decisions on the ball and created numerous good chances.”
PNE line-up: Roberts; Creech, Stead, Day, Campbell (Lyons, 58); Wood (Smart, 81), Meulensteen, O’Neil, Howard (Davidson, 63); Garstang, Earl. Subs not used: Horton, Mason, Barry.