A place in the Lancashire FA Youth Cup semi-final beckons for the youth team following a 2-1 win against Accrington Stanley on Tuesday afternoon.
Mike Howard and Harry Garstang struck within the opening 25 minutes to put North End in control and although Alex O’Neil pulled one back for Accrington just after the hour to set up a tense finish, Nick Harrison’s youngsters held on for victory.
The Lilywhites had already beaten Accrington twice this term and made a bright start to this contest, taking the lead from their first chance after five minutes.
Good work in midfield allowed Lewis Fensome to cross first time from the right, and the quality of his delivery meant Howard only needed to make the slightest contact to score, finishing into the bottom right corner with his knee.
Howard could have had a second only a minute later when Jack Baxter played him into space down the left, but his low shot was this time dealt with by goalkeeper Nathan Wolland.
Accrington grew into the game but struggled to test James Cottam in the PNE goal as the hosts continued to create the better opportunities, with Garstang unfortunate midway through the half when he capitalised on a backpass but saw his challenge on Wolland deflect behind for a goal kick.
But shortly after in the 25th minute, Garstang got his goal. Charlie Lyons had picked up a clearance from a corner on the right flank, and when Wolland failed to claim his cross into the box, Garstang was well placed to provide the finish into an empty net from ten yards.
The two goalscorers both had chances to add their individual tallies before the break, as Howard forced an excellent close range save from Wolland before Garstang controlled Oscar O’Neil’s clever through ball into the box but was also denied by the Accrington stopper.
North End continued to look the better side at the start of the second-half, with Howard and Adam O’Reilly testing Wolland with good efforts from distance while Baxter saw a goalbound shot cleared.
However, Accrington’s pressure grew and they pulled one back on 65 minutes. Adam Cooper crossed low from the right flank and when that delivery was diverted into O’Neil’s path, it was a simple finish for the visiting forward to reduce his side’s deficit.
With less than 15 minutes remaining, James Cottam made a superb save to keep out Joel Mills, who had cut inside from the left and curled towards the far top corner, only for the PNE ‘keeper to tip it onto the crossbar.
There were other important defensive actions from North End as they restricted the opposition to half chances in the final stages, with Howard going closest to scoring for either side in the final ten minutes as he struck just wide of the bottom right post from a tight angle.
The Lilywhites’ first-half strikes proved enough for the victory which sends them into the Lancashire FA Youth Cup semi-final, with PNE set to discover their opponents for that tie in Friday’s 5pm draw.
Youth team manager Nick Harrison was happy to progress in the competition.
“The objective was to win the game and get through to the semis and we’ve done that,” Harrison told PNE.com. “We’re really pleased with how the boys performed overall and the character they showed to dig in towards the end of the game, so we’re delighted the players have got through to the next round because it gives them another chance in another game.
“If you look at the game overall, we should have scored more than two. We created a lot of really good chances and played on the front foot from the first whistle and I think if we would have put away one or two of the other chances, we would have made the game a bit easier for ourselves.
“Accrington worked hard to try to stop us from scoring and their ‘keeper made some really good saves. We still showed the quality to create the chances, we just didn’t put it in the back of the net enough.
“At 2-0, the opposition always have a chance and that’s how it panned out, but I’m delighted with the character the players showed towards the end to see the game through.”
North End are now unbeaten in five and have won their last four, and Harrison feels the hard work on the training pitch has contributed to the youth team’s current good form.
“We’re delighted with how the players are performing, not just in games but training too where they are working really hard.
“What’s happened in recent games is we’ve scored lots of goals, and that wins you games. We need to tidy up on some of the errors that have led to conceding goals and if we can do that, the scoreline looks more comfortable.
“The players are young and it’s all about development, so we will keep working with them because ultimately we want to win by scoring as many as we can and we want to keep clean sheets. It’s good what the boys are doing that at the moment and it needs to continue.”
PNE line-up: Cottam; Fensome, Day, Lyons, Campbell (Armer, 75); O’Neil, Baxter (Smart, 85); Walker (Wood, 78), O’Reilly, Howard; Garstang. Subs not used: Lenton, Brannigan.