Volleys in each half from Joe Nolan and Jacob Holland-Wilkinson sealed the youth team’s place in the fourth round of the FA Youth Cup with a 2-0 win over Bristol City at Deepdale.
Nolan converted with his weaker left foot right on the stroke of half-time before another fine strike from Holland-Wilkinson, also with the ball still in flight, made sure of the young Lilywhites’ passage to the next round.
Academy manager Nick Harrison made four changes from the side that defeated Accrington Stanley nine days previously as Jimmy Corcoran, Lewis Coulton, Lewis Earl and Joe Rodwell-Grant replaced Connor Eastham, Kyi Nicholson, Aaron Bennett and Ethan Walker in the starting line-up.
North End’s youngsters began in confident mood and saw a chance within the opening 45 seconds as the ball broke for captain on the night Tyrhys Dolan in the opposition area and his shot was turned behind for a corner.
There were also early openings for Brian McManus, who blazed a shot wide from similarly decent range, before Coulton’s corner was headed agonisingly wide by Tyler Williams.
The home side remained in control for much of the half, with Jimmy Corcoran’s only work of note coming just after the half hour when he tipped over superbly to keep out James E Taylor’s long range strike.
Dolan went close again before the break, seeing his shot saved by ‘keeper William Buse from point blank range, and he saw his cross looped onto the roof of the net by Holland-Wilkinson’s header moments later.
The goal did come, however, PNE edging in front very much on merit in the 45th minute.
The skipper was involved again, Dolan seeing his cross in from the right half cleared and falling kindly for Nolan lurking on the edge of the area, the midfielder still having plenty to do as he struck perfectly to send his left-footed volley into the bottom left corner.
There was a Bristol City change at the interval but it was very much a case of picking up where they left off for Harrison’s young charges, who were unfortunate not to double their lead eight minutes into the second half when Coulton’s bullet header was cleared off the line.
The Robins began to see more of the ball but without ever truly testing Corcoran. Indeed, it was Lilywhites substitute Aaron Bennett who looked most likely to cause either defence a problem, his inviting low cross from deep – almost immediately after his introduction – taking an awkward deflection that forced Buse to tip around his post.
There was not long to wait thereafter for another goal as Holland-Wilkinson put forward his best effort to challenge team-mate Nolan in the goal of the night stakes.
It came on 79 minutes, as Lincoln McFayden’s high cross from deep on the left looked to be petering into nothing, but Holland-Wilkinson watched it down perfectly, his sweet connection on the volley destined for the far corner from the moment he hit it.
Another late arrival from the bench, Louis Potts, might have added to the lead in the closing moments when he intercepted around 35 yards from goal with the goalkeeper out of position, but Buse got back to tip his shot wide.
The Lilywhites’ backline stood firm to record a fine victory and extend their unbeaten run to nine matches, their reward a trip to Oxford United or Maidenhead United in the next round of the competition, to be played in the New Year on a date to be confirmed.
PNE line-up: Corcoran, Dooley, McFayden, Nolan, Williams, Earl, Holland-Wilkinson, McManus, Rodwell-Grant (Potts, 84), Dolan (Bennett, 71), Coulton. Subs not used: Huddart, Lombard, Nicholson, Blanchard, Leigh.
Bristol City line-up: Buse, Pearson, Towler, Owers, Low, E Taylor, Taylor, Bell, Conway (Benarous, 80), Pearson, Soady (Francois, 46). Subs not used: Smith, Benarous, Allen, Lott, Gould, Henry.
Referee: Mr M Ryder.