Preston North End U19s completed a second-half comeback to beat Burton Albion 2-1 and progress through to the sectional final of the Youth Alliance Cup.
On a sunny afternoon at Springfields, North End were able to book their place in the final thanks to second-half goals from Teddy Mfuni and Aaron Bennett.
PNE U19 manager Nick Harrison made three changes from the team which beat Accrington Stanley 4-0 on Saturday. Levi Lewis, Dana Amaral and Jacob Holland-Wilkinson were replaced by Mikey O’Neill, Kian Best and Vaughn Green.
Both teams struggled to take control of the game in the early stages, but as the half progressed, North End created two chances in quick succession.
The first came from good work by Jacob Slater getting down the left, as he fizzed a ball across the box and found O’Neill, but his effort was hit wide of the left-hand post.
The second chance also fell the way of O’Neill; he raced in down the right and tried to lob the ‘keeper, who was able to tip it away from danger.
It was then the visitors who would pile on the pressure in the back end of the first half. Their first chance was met with a brilliantly-timed block by Harry Nevin to send it out for a corner.
From that resulting corner, Best was positioned well at the near post to clear a header off the line.
Five minutes before the half-time whistle, the Brewers were awarded a penalty after Best committed a foul in the area, which he also picked up a yellow card for. The spot-kick was slotted away into the bottom left-hand corner, sending Pradic the wrong way and giving the visitors the lead.
North End have rarely found themselves trailing at half-time in their terrific campaign, and they opted to make a change to start the second period as Finlay Cross-Adair replaced Green.
PNE came out with a new lease of life and several chances fell the way of North End’s attackers as the ball bobbled around the area, but the Brewers 'keeper was able to pull off some great reflex saves.
The Lilywhites did grab their equaliser just six minutes into the second half as Mfuni got back in the goals, heading home from close range after a well-worked corner.
The visitors were still posing a threat, though, and a fast break saw them go through on goal, but their effort was tame and easy enough for Pradic to claim.
North End then took the lead in the 70th minute through Bennett, who dribbled past several Burton defenders and unleashed an effort from the edge of the area which took a wicked deflection and wrong-footed the 'keeper to turn the game around.
The home side continued to be on top, with another chance falling their way as they looked to put the result to bed. Good link-up play between Josh Seary and Noah Mawene down the right saw the latter find substitute Cross-Adair in the box, and he twisted and turned but his effort was well blocked.
North End really battled until the final whistle to hang onto the victory and, once the referee blew his final whistle, cheers of elation and joy were let out all over the pitch.
Speaking after the game, manager Harrison said: “It’s a great win. The objective was to get to the final and we’ve done that.
“I thought the performance was a little bit hit and miss; I thought we played well in patches.
“The performance was probably a little bit mixed, but I was delighted with the character of the boys to come from 1-0 down and go on to win the game.”
This win made it seven victories in a row for PNE U19s in all competitions as they look to have both cup and league success come the end of the season.
“I keep talking about this Academy, we’ve got some really good players,” continued Harrison.
“This particular group of scholars have done incredibly well this season and that’s a credit to them.
“We’ve seen them progress and we want them to keep progressing which is now the challenge.”
North End will now face Bolton on Saturday in the Youth Alliance Cup sectional final at Springfields and Harrison expects a difficult encounter.
“It’s going to be a very tough test,” he added.
“It’s a local derby as well as a cup final, so both teams are going to be up for it.
“Bolton are in really good form at the moment as well so it’s going to be a tough game, but it’s something that all the players and staff are looking forward to.”
PNE line-up: Pradic, Mfuni, Slater, Leigh, Nevin, Best, Seary, Mawene, Green (Cross-Adair, 45), O'Neill, Bennett. Subs not used: Davis, Wallbank, Amaral, Nelson.