Preston North End U18s got back to winning ways after a 3-0 victory against North West Youth Alliance league opponents Accrington Stanley on Saturday morning.
First half strikes from Kyi Nicholson, Joe Rodwell-Grant and Ben Dooley were enough to secure all three points for the Lilywhites, playing under wet and windy conditions.
PNE started the game brightly, looking to put last week’s derby defeat behind them early on, and they almost got the opener of the game inside the first 90 seconds when Noah Mawene had an effort flash just wide.
Ten minutes later, PNE were starting to dictate the tempo of play and create chances, first through Joe Rodwell-Grant, and then a long-range effort from Ben Dooley had the keeper’ troubled.
The best chance of the opening stages fell to Jacob Holland-Wilkinson after he danced through the Stanley defence before striking the ball straight at Jack Buckley in the Reds' goal.
Accrington thought they had opened the scoring on 27 minutes only to be denied via a last-ditch challenge from Josh Seary.
The Lilywhites did go in front moments later after the ball fell nicely to Kyi Nicholson, who slotted coolly home through Buckley’s legs to break the deadlock.
Stanley responded well to going behind, forcing a crucial block from Joe Blanchard followed by a smart save by Oliver Lombard to keep PNE in a winning position.
The moment of the match came on 34 minutes after a long ball upfield was controlled expertly by Joe Rodwell-Grant. The in-form forward collected the ball with the outside of his heel before turning and unleashing a powerful shot into the bottom right corner.
North End had the ball in the net again a minute later after a smart attack but unfortunately this time it was ruled out for an offside.
As the first half drew to a close and the weather worsened, North End grew in confidence and added a third goal on 39 minutes. Ben Dooley found himself unmarked in the box and made no mistake with his effort, smashing it through the hands of the helpless Stanley No.1.
The Lilywhites' dominance continued in the second half as Dooley and Jacob Slater went close to adding a fourth for the hosts. Rodwell-Grant also had an effort tipped over the bar.
Stanley’s biggest chance of the game fell to forward Owen Davenport, who failed to get on the end of a tantalising cross by winger Oliver Patrick.
On 65 minutes, PNE made their first change of the game and it was a double switch for goalscorers Rodwell-Grant and Dooley, who were replaced by Mikey O’Neill and Dana Amaral.
Moments later, Academy manager Nick Harrison turned to his bench again, this time sending on Teddy Mfuni and Aaron Bennett in place of Noah Mawene and Lewis Leigh.
Welsh youth international Bennett almost made an instant impact, only to be denied by a sliding challenge by Stanley centre back Jasper Newton.
Bennett was at the heart of things again for North End when he was unlucky not to find the net with his great effort 10 minutes from time.
A rampant first half display and a professional second half performance from Harrison’s men secured the three points, and speaking after the game, youth team boss Harrison described the win as ‘a really good result’.
Nick said: “It was a really good performance and a really good result.
“We also had the bonus of a clean sheet, which is something I have been challenging the players to get as we have been conceding too many goals in the last few games, so of course I’m delighted with the clean sheet and the goals we scored.”
Nick reflected on Kyi Nicholson's opening goal as being a ‘vital moment’ in the win.
“We always like to challenge the players, so for them to respond and get the first goal of the game it was a vital moment for us.
“I think it gave the players the confidence to go on and create further chances throughout the game and we probably should have scored a lot more than we did.”
Harrison also spoke of the inclusion of the three U16 players in the starting XI; defenders Josh Seary and Jacob Slater, and midfielder Noah Mawene.
“This is something we have been doing all season," Nick continued.
“We want to accelerate the best players into the squad and give them a chance, so it was nice to see them perform and develop but I thought the senior players done a good job because sometimes they have to help the younger players.
“I thought every player played their part today and showed their quality when we needed them too.”
PNE line-up: Lombard; Seary, Huddart, Blanchard, Slater; Dooley (Amaral, 65), Leigh (Mfuni, 72); Nicholson, Mawene (Bennett, 72), Holland-Wilkinson; Rodwell-Grant (O'Neil, 65).
Subs not used: Duggan.
Referee: Mr L Corns.