A Mikey O’Neill double helped Preston North End reach the Central League Cup final as the Lilywhites beat Carlisle United 2-1.
The second-year scholar, who recently extended his stay at the club by a year, opened the scoring in the first half, but North End were pegged back with just more than ten minutes to go.
Within just a few moments, though, PNE won a penalty at the other end and O’Neill stepped up to secure the victory.
It was a relatively quiet opening to the game, with no real chances until the 18th minute when Ethan Walker saw his close-range shot blocked.
O’Neill then came close on 22 minutes, having a low strike kept out by goalkeeper Gabriel Breeze, before James Pradic was called into action at the other end, saving Mason Hardy’s effort.
The Wales U17 goalkeeper then had the woodwork to thank on 36 minutes, as Nick Bollado struck the inside of the post before the ball bounced back across the face of goal and was cleared by Lewis Coulton.
He then turned provider within a minute at the other end, making strides down the left and cutting back for O’Neill, who swept the ball into the far corner with his left foot.
That was enough to send North End into a half-time lead and that was nearly extended when Walker sent an overhead kick just over the crossbar.
From that point, though, it was Carlisle creating the chances, with Pradic called into action by Bollado and the No.8 then fired over from close range not long later.
The Blues did get their goal on 79 minutes, as a low Lewis Bell cross took a double of deflections inside the area and the ball made its way past Pradic.
They wouldn’t be level for long, as Coulton was brought down in the box three minutes later and O’Neill stepped up to calmly slot home from the spot to put his side back in the lead.
There was a late scare for the hosts, as Max Kilsby headed goalwards from very close range, but Pradic somehow kept it out to secure North End’s passage to the final of the Central League Cup.
PNE line-up: Pradic; Taylor (Wallbank, 68), Nevin, Blanchard; Seary, Amaral, Bennett, O’Neill, Coulton; Rodwell-Grant (Holland-Wilkinson, 38), Walker (Mawene, 78). Subs not used: Lombard, Slater.
Carlisle United line-up: Breeze; Kilsby, Ellis, Carr, Gordon; Watt, Nugent, Bollado, Bell; Fishburn, Hardy (Taylor, 45). Subs not used: Simmons, Boyd, Bell.
Referee: Mr N Cox