Preston North End U18s picked up a vital three points away from home on Saturday as they defeated North West Youth Alliance League opponents Oldham Athletic 4-2.
Goals from Jacob Holland-Wilkinson, Kyi Nicholson, Noah Mawene and Mikey O’Neil completed a second half turnaround from the young Lilywhites, as they got back to much-needed winning ways.
There were three changes to the side from last weekend's visit defeat to Bolton Wanderers as Josh Seary, Lewis Coulton and Harry Nevin returned to the side – the latter making his first start since November after recovering from a long-term injury.
It was the hosts who started off the brighter of the two sides and they took the lead on five minutes after Ben Hough’s cross was glanced on by Isaac Modi – despite his best efforts, Oliver Lombard was unable to keep the looping header out.
The Latics almost added a second moments later through Modi again, this time Lombard won the battle of the two and managed to keep the forward's close-range strike from crossing the line.
It was not until the 27th minute that North End started to assert their authority on the game – Ben Dooley was becoming more influential on the ball and Nicholson had a curling effort flash just wide of the post.
In additional time at the end of the first half, Dooley made a bursting run into the box before being brought down for a spot kick. Holland-Wilkinson stepped up and coolly converted the ball past Mackenzie Chapman in the Oldham goal, seeing the sides enter the break level.
The second half began much like the first, bursting straight into life with yet another early goal, this time from James Simms, who tapped in from inside the six-yard box after the ball ricocheted off Lombard and straight back to the forward who couldn’t miss.
Oldham almost had daylight in the tie only to be denied by North Ends No.1 – diving low to keep out Hough on 51 minutes.
The move of the match came after 53 minutes when Dooley latched onto some loose defending from the Latics before releasing a pass to Mawene. He assisted Nicholson, who made no mistake in finishing the impressive move, sliding the ball into the bottom right corner.
The first substitutions of the game were made just on the hour mark as Vani Da Silva and Joseph Edwards were replaced by Jake Forshaw and Harry Vaughan for the home side.
The changes only seemed to motivate North End more as they completed the comeback to make it 3-2 on 62 minutes. Mawene was picked out by Holland-Wilkinson and he buried the chance on the volley from inside the box. It wasn’t an easy finish, but he certainly made it look that way.
With the scoreline a delicate one at 3-2, the away side remained positive and a change of formation and shape for the Lilywhites saw defender Harry Nevin replaced by O’Neil.
Just 30 seconds after entering the field of play, O’Neill had the ball in the back of the net after converting a cross from a corner, much to the delight of the coaches on the sideline, who helped play a part in the super-sub’s fast and effective contribution.
Holland-Wilkinson and Nicholson went close to making it five for PNE but neither could keep their shots down and on target.
The final change of the match with five minutes remaining when Lewis Coulton was replaced by Vaughn Green.
A big second half performance from the Lilywhites ensured they left Oldham with all three points.
Speaking after to PNE.Com after the game, Academy manager Nick Harrison said his side's game plan didn’t change in the second half despite trailing for the majority of the opening 45 minutes.
Nick said: “We didn’t change how we played in the second half compared to the first, the game plan didn’t change, I think second half we were just crisper with our passing and more clinical.”
“I thought the players responded brilliantly to going a goal down in the first half and also conceding just after half time, the players really stuck to the task, believed in themselves, and created good opportunities that allowed us to go on and win the game.”
Harrison played down credit to himself for the substitution of Mikey O’Neill that led to the fourth and final goal, insisting that full credit goes to the striker for his involvement.
Nick said: “Its brilliant from Mikey, this is what we expect from our forward players when we send them onto the pitch, it’s to score.
“Whether it’s with the first touch or 20th touch, we hope the players make an impact and credit to Mikey he has done that today and finished his chance nicely.”
North End next face Rochdale away in the North West Youth Alliance League on Tuesday afternoon.
PNE U18 line-up: Lombard; Seary, Nevin (O'Neil, 69), Blanchard, Coulton (Green, 85); Huddart, Leigh; Nicholson, Mawene, Dooley; Holland-Wilkinson.
Subs not used: Mfuni, Duggan, Bennett.
Referee: Mr K Hum.