Preston North End’s U18s earned a place in the northern semi-finals of the Youth Alliance Cup with a 2-0 away win against Rotherham United.
Charlie Lyons gave PNE the lead six minutes into the second-half and Jack Baxter doubled the advantage with a penalty three minutes later as the Lilywhites showed great maturity to see out the contest.
It was a fast-paced start to proceedings from both sides but the hosts had the better of the early opportunities, winger Revarnelle James placing a first time shot just over the bar before he surged down the right, only for North End goalkeeper James Cottam to claim his low cross.
Adam O’Reilly had the visitors’ first meaningful effort, gliding to the edge of the area as his shot was tipped around the post by ‘keeper George McMahon before Reece McGinley shot straight at Cottam at the other end.
Harry Garstang then struck just wide from outside the box to complete a lively opening 20 minutes, but there were only chances from that point up until the break.
The Lilywhites had the better of the play from there and had sights of goal through Garstang, who had the ball swept off his toes by McMahon after controlling well in the box, and Cameron Day as he headed wide of the far post from a corner on the stroke of half time.
The visitors resumed control after the break and were in front after 51 minutes. Ethan Walker’s curling 20 yard free-kick was brilliantly touched onto the crossbar by McMahon, but Lyons followed in well to net the opener from just a few yards out.
Rotherham midfielder Jack Osborne placed a first-time effort marginally over following the restart but North End soon netted their second.
That came courtesy of some superb skill from Tyrhys Dolan, who was awarded a penalty in the 54th minute after he was brought down having pirouetted past a defender in the box. Baxter fired it high and central into the roof of the net.
Walker crossed for Garstang and Tom Stead after the hour, the former shooting wide of the far post while the latter headed straight at McMahon from a tight angle.
Cottam twice saved comfortably from headed efforts as Joshua Kayode and then Tom Bexton connected with Lewis Murr’s corners.
But the visitors defended well and continued to make inroads on the counter, with Jack Baxter testing McMahon with a low drive having beaten several players as he made his way into the box.
There were some vital North End interventions at the back late on though, too. With seven minutes remaining, Stead prevented what looked like a certain goal for Kayode, who had regained possession close to goal, as the visiting defender rushed back to make an outstanding challenge and then clear., and Cottam saved well from Rotherham substitute Tyrone Lewthwaite minutes later.
The final chance came North End’s way when Mike Howard’s effort on the half volley was saved in stoppage time, as the visitors saw it out for a fantastic win.
Nick Harrison was delighted with his team’s performance in a competitive and high-quality contest.
“I thought it was an outstanding performance, even in the first-half,” the youth team manager told PNE.com. “It was a really competitive game but that’s we expected, it’s the quarter-finals of the Youth Alliance Cup, Rotherham haven’t lost in the league all season and they have got some good players, so we knew it would be tough.
“It was certainly a competitive game throughout. We said to the players at half-time that it was a real game, a real performance with some proper football, not typical academy football which is nowhere near what first team football is like. It was more aligned to first team football, which is where the players want to have a career.
“That’s what we challenge them to do, to make that transition from youth team football to first team football as quickly as possible for them to have a chance of making a career, and I thought they showed that in abundance today.”
Harrison was also was pleased that his players completed the objective set of them before the game in keeping a clean sheet and that his side’s quality shone through at the other end of the pitch.
“That was an objective that we set, because we haven’t kept a clean sheet in the last couple of games and we really needed to challenge ourselves not to concede a goal. We know we can score goals at the other end – I think we’ve scored more goals than any team in our league this year – but what we’ve got to do is concede fewer goals and I’m delighted that we’ve kept a clean sheet today.
“There was some real good quality from the two U16 players, Ethan Walker and Tyrhys Dolan. It’s a great free-kick from Ethan which is followed in by Charlie [Lyons], and then just great ability and skill by Tyrhys inside the box to beat two men and win a penalty, and Jack [Baxter] shows great composure to slot it. The goals came from moments of real quality but I thought we deserved that.
“I think we edged it in the first-half and had a couple of chances in their box which we might have done better with, but we showed some real quality in the second-half to create the chances we did and we probably could have scored more than the two that we did.”
PNE line-up: Cottam; Day, Fensome, Stead, Lyons; O’Reilly, Baxter; Howard, Dolan (Simmons, 86), Walker (Mason, 90); Garstang (Brannigan, 90). Subs not used: Armer, Lenton.