Jacob Holland-Wilkinson bagged a hattrick as Preston North End U19s came from behind twice to beat Oldham 5-2 at Springfields.
A well-taken solo strike from Kitt Nelson came between two goals from the visitors either side of half-time, as Jack Williams restored the Latics’ lead on 53 minutes.
The game changed on the hour mark as both Williams and PNE’s Dana Amaral were sent off after a scuffle and the game thereafter swung in the favour of the hosts as Cross-Adair levelled on 64 minutes before Holland-Wilkinson ran riot in the final 15 minutes.
It was a great display of character from a youthful North End side that was much rotated in preparation for the upcoming FA Youth Cup clash away at Sutton United in midweek.
Goalkeeper Declyn Duggan, Kian Taylor, Kasper Pasiek, Finlay Wallbank, Isaac Khan, Noah Mawene, Levi Lewis and Nelson were all handed starts with only Cross-Adair, Amaral and Holland-Wilkinson, who was captain for the day, retaining their places from the 4-0 win over Port Vale the previous weekend.
It was a rainy morning at Springfields with heavy winds meaning both sides had to adjust their approach to the match.
As a result, the game began with little quality on show and very few chances created, although a shot was dragged wide by an Oldham forward on four minutes.
The first opportunity for the Lilywhites arrived on 27 minutes when Holland-Wilkinson beat the opposition ‘keeper to a hopeful through ball and laid it off for Nelson, but the midfielder’s strike flew over the bar.
The Oldham stopper was almost caught out by the strong wind two minutes later when he was forced to tip Lewis’ free-kick from the right side of the pitch over the bar.
After a number of weeks out with injury, Mawene was given the first half hour of the game to try and restore some match fitness and Ethan Eccleston replaced the midfielder who had been lively in his return to the side.
Three minutes later and the visitors took a surprise lead, the North End backline were unable to deal with a long ball and a composed finish from the striker left Duggan with no chance.
But Nick Harrison’s side weren’t behind for long as Nelson cut inside, jinked past two players and slotted home from the edge of the area to level the tie eight minutes before half-time.
After a first half in which they had been on top, PNE were stunned on 53 minutes as Williams was picked out with a long ball and fired Oldham back in front.
The goal came just seconds after Khan was forced off with an injury and replaced by Jacob Slater.
On the hour mark, the turning point in the match arrived when there was a coming together between both sides which resulted in two red cards, with Amaral being the man dismissed for PNE.
The hosts were forced to change their shape but undoubtedly adjusted to losing a man a lot quicker and more effectively than their opponents.
Holland-Wilkinson rattled the crossbar on 63 minutes before Cross-Adair equalised for a second time with a deflected shot just a minute later.
The Lilywhites had restored parity but were now out for victory and Cross-Adair had two more opportunities to add to his tally before Holland-Wilkinson gave North End the lead for the first time as he tapped home a drilled cross from Lewis.
Moments later, the centre forward made it 4-2 after beating his man and finding the net with a fierce effort.
Just eight minutes after his first goal, Holland-Wilkinson completed his hat-trick with a clinical finish after a great run and through ball from Nelson.
The skipper had two more opportunities towards the end but had to settle for just the three in the end!
It had been an eventful game in which the Lilywhites had persevered despite many potential obstacles: challenging weather conditions, a rotated squad and even having a man sent off.
Manager Nick Harrison was understandably elated in his post-match interview with PNE.Com.
“The weather conditions were horrendous, and it was a difficult game,” he said.
“We had a really young team out there, a lot of changes, but I thought each and every one of them played their part, worked hard and made a real impact.
“To score five goals is really pleasing and I thought overall, the performance was really good and I’m delighted with the result.”
He was also impressed by the character on show from his players after falling behind twice, as well as adapting to losing Amaral on 60 minutes.
“It was excellent character and attitude from the players to come from behind and, once we got ourselves in front in the second half, to create more chances and score more goals and win the game comfortably.
“When we did go down to ten men, I thought the players reacted to the change of shape really positively and we played that part of the game really well.”
PNE line-up: Duggan, Taylor, Pasiek, Amaral, Wallbank, Khan (Slater 53’), Cross-Adair, Mawene (Eccleston 31’), Holland-Wilkinson (C), Nelson, Lewis
Subs not used: Green, Best, Davis