Harry Garstang hit a first-half brace as Preston North End U18s moved to the top of their Youth Alliance Cup group with a 4-2 win over Accrington Stanley.
Garstang struck twice inside 20 minutes to put North End 2-0 ahead, but Accrington were level within 15 minutes as Zehn Mohammed and Joel Mills both netted from set pieces.
But Mike Howard sent PNE back in front five minutes before the break and Adam O’Reilly restored the hosts’ two goal margin with a stunning effort 20 minutes from time.
The Lilywhites controlled possession early on and Kamol Campbell nearly broke the deadlock with a powerful long-range drive on ten minutes, Accrington ‘keeper Toby Savin tipping just over.
North End took the lead shortly after in the 12th minute. Campbell was involved again, his cross from the left taking a slight deflection on its way to Garstang, who turned and converted with a cool finish from six yards.
Garstang doubled his and the team’s tally only six minutes later. An Accrington defender inadvertently cleared into his path and the forward, with his back to goal, shifted it out of his feet ten yards from goal and unleashed a great low strike into the bottom right corner.
Accrington halved the deficit shortly after on 21 minutes, though, as Mills’ corner from the right skimmed through to Mohammed in the centre, the defender firing home via the crossbar.
The Lilywhites continued to dominate but were pegged back once more, with Mills himself getting on the scoresheet after 34 minutes as his free-kick from deep on the left found the top right corner.
However, the hosts soon regained their lead. O’Reilly had volleyed over from a good position just moments after Accrington’s equaliser but Howard struck North End’s third in the 40th minute.
The winger controlled a loose ball on the edge of the box, superbly turned away from his marker and curled a wonderful effort into the bottom left corner with his left foot.
The Lilywhites looked comfortable in the second-half and could have extended their advantage through O’Reilly and Oscar O’Neil, who both tested Savin with strikes from outside the box within ten minutes of the restart.
But Accrington were also close just after the hour as Mohammed again threatened from a corner, this time seeing a header deflected marginally over James Cottam’s crossbar.
On 71 minutes, though, O’Reilly struck North End’s fourth in fantastic style. Campbell showed great persistence down the left to nudge it into Howard’s path, who duly nudged it on for the Irishman to hit it first time with the outside of his boot and into the top right corner.
The visitors vied to get back into the game with one shot from distance striking the post before Tom Riley shot just wide in the final stages, but the scoreline remained at 4-2 for a convincing victory.
The three points send the Lilywhites to the top of their Youth Alliance Cup group, sitting a point ahead of second-placed Grimsby Town with one game remaining.
Youth team manager Nick Harrison was pleased with team’s performance.
“We’re really delighted to win and I thought it was a really positive performance,” the youth team manager told PNE.com. “I thought we passed it well today and the movement, especially in the first 25 minutes or so, was really good.
“We got on the ball, switched the play and moved it quickly which is how we got the goals. I’m really pleased with how positively we played and ultimately, that’s how we played in the second-half as well, which won us the game.
“It’s really good to see Harry Garstang score two because as all strikers do, he’s gone through a bit of a patch where not much has come off for him. We challenged him before the game to go and score, which he did, so I’m really pleased for him.
“Scoring the goals when we did was really important but we’re a little disappointed not to have got more because their goals came from or just after chances that we’d had ourselves.”
Harrison praised the mentality of his players to continue in a positive vein and win convincingly after Accrington had come back from two goals down in the first-half.
“I think it shows great character. In terms of our play and how the game was going, we didn’t deserve to concede those goals but we were just a little bit sloppy with our decisions at the back.
“We showed great character to come back from that. The players continued to believe in themselves and play the right type of football to get the third and fourth goals. Overall, we deserved to win the game, I just thought we could have further capitalised on the chances we created.”
North End’s next Youth Alliance Cup game is away to Lincoln City next month, where they will secure qualification to the next round with a win, and Harrison is looking forward to that contest.
“Obviously, it’s a cup game in the group stages today and we have two wins and one draw now. Going to Lincoln will be a good trip for us, it’s not too easy to get to but we’re looking forward to it.
“It’s good to be top of the group and we need to go to Lincoln with the mentality to want to win the game, because the more wins we get, the more belief we have as a team and it gives the players confidence.”
PNE line-up: Cottam; Simmons (Walker, 69), Day, Armer, Campbell; O’Neil, Baxter; Smart, O’Reiily (Dolan, 82), Howard (Pollard, 87), Garstang. Subs not used: Lenton, Brannigan.