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Match Reports

PNE U18 1 Wrexham U18 3

11 March 2018

The youth team fell to a 3-1 home defeat at the hands of Wrexham at UCLan Sports Arena on Saturday.

Niall Freeman netted either side of half-time to put the Welsh side in control before Dan Stephens scored a third with 20 minutes remaining.

Josh Pollard reduced the deficit in the 75th minute but there was to be no late comeback from North End’s youngsters.

Manager Nick Harrison made five changes from the side which faced Bury four weeks previously, with this the young Lilywhites’ first outing since then.

PNE’s first effort towards goal came after seven minutes, Harry Garstang controlling well to nudge it to Adam O’Reilly on the edge of the box, who then exchanged passes with Tyrhys Dolan before curling a first-time strike just over.

Neither side was able to have a sustained period of possession early on with the two defences looking strong; the visitors’ most dangerous moment an unsuccessful penalty claim from Freeman after his skilful run was halted in the box.

The Wrexham forward was the man responsible for breaking the deadlock after 31 minutes. It was a fine strike from Freeman, who received the ball just outside the box and after nudging it past a PNE defender, he unleashed the ball into the bottom right corner.

The hosts might have cancelled that strike out four minutes later, when Connor Simpson crossed low from the right for Kian Smart, whose deft flick was heading wide but a deflection almost took it goalwards before Wrexham cleared.

Dolan showed great close control to take it down the right and into the box in first-half stoppage time, but was unfortunate as his goalbound shot was blocked.

The Lilywhites had a couple of half chances early in the second-half, but Garstang’s free-kick and Smart’s piledriver from distance were both comfortably held by goalkeeper Dane Rigby.

Wrexham could have doubled their lead within ten minutes of the restart when Freeman ran free down the left, but his placed shot was well held low down by Cottam.

The visitors soon had their second, though, Freeman extending the lead after 59 minutes. The forward raced onto Rigby’s kick forward to face Cottam one on one and although the North End stopper got a hand to his low strike, it wasn’t enough to prevent it reaching the bottom right corner.

Kamol Campbell nearly halved the deficit in style shortly after with a powerful strike from range arrowing towards the bottom right corner, but Rigby managed to palm it away.

The next goal again went the visitors’ way. Sam Pilkington curled a free-kick over the wall which looked destined for the bottom left corner and although Cottam dived well to save, defender Dan Stephens was in the perfect position to convert the rebound.

The Lilywhites had the better of the play from there on and pulled one back in the 75th minute. Josh Pollard, who had only been on the field for four minutes, took up a great position in the box to meet Simpson’s low cross from the right and sweep home with a composed effort.

The hosts applied the pressure in the final moments and came close when Dolan met Lewis Simmons’ right-wing cross – his effort ultimately lacking the power to test Rigby – but that added intensity came too late to change the outcome of the contest.

Harrison, the youth team boss, felt his side didn’t threaten Wrexham enough in possession.

“I thought it was a poor performance overall,” he told PNE.com. “We obviously had a very different team to previous games and the team’s getting a lot younger, but that should be a challenge for those players.

“We knew we’d have a lot of the ball – that’s how they set up because they defend deep and we spent some time talking about that with the players on Friday.

"We did pass the ball well at times and got into good positions, but we just didn’t hurt them with the final pass or get our shots on target.

“We didn’t capitalise on our chances, we didn’t hurt them or get enough bodies forward at times and the movement wasn’t quite there, so we’re disappointed with that.

“The three goals we conceded are far too easy for them and we shouldn’t concede those types of goals at this level, our goalkeeper should have done better, too.”

“That aside, we’re still disappointed with how we performed, some of the passes weren’t there, the movement wasn’t there and we didn’t cause enough of a threat really.”

Harrison was pleased with the impact of the North End substitutes in the contest and encouraged his players to take all the opportunities to play that come their way between now and the season’s end.

“In the last 15 minutes or so, we could have got back into the game and drawn it or gone on to win it if we took our chances. The substitutes did change the game and we’re delighted with the impact they made.

“We need players who are willing to make the right runs and pass the ball with decisiveness because that’s what was missing today – either the passes were off or the movement wasn’t quite there and that’s not good enough for Preston North End.

“The only people who can fight for a place are the players themselves. We have lots of players at U15 and U16 level and those who are excelling will get their chance, but no matter what age you are, when you’re on the pitch, you’ve got to take your opportunity.”

PNE line-up: Cottam; Day (Simmons, 63), Ngongo, Armer, Campbell; Smart (Pollard, 71), Baxter; Dolan, O’Reilly, Garstang (Jolly, 63); Simpson. Subs not used: Lenton, Brannigan.


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