Preston North End U19s cruised to a 4-0 win over Walsall at Springfields in the Youth Alliance League.
All goals came in the first half as Kitt Nelson bagged a brace while Finlay Cross-Adair and Lewis Leigh also added their names to the scoresheet.
The outcome never looked in doubt as the Lilywhites controlled proceedings from start to finish and were unlucky not to win by an even bigger margin.
There were three changes made to the team that won 2-0 at Bolton in their previous outing.
Tommy Davis came in for the injured James Pradic in goal, while Ethan Eccleston and Cole McGhee made way for Rio Pemberton and Theo Mawene, with the latter making his first start for the U19s alongside brother Noah, with father Youl watching on from the sidelines.
PNE made a blistering start as just four minutes into the match, Cross-Adair nodded home a superb cross from Jacob Slater, who had signed a professional deal with the club the day before.
The hosts weren’t prepared to sit on that lead as, mere moments later, Kian Best sent in a searching ball which was punched away by the Walsall ‘keeper and it fell to skipper Leigh on the edge of the area, but his ambitious volley was way off target.
Walsall remained penned in their half as Slater was able to break down the left flank and send in another cross which travelled through a forest of players, reaching Eccleston at the back post and his shot was just wide.
On 20 minutes, it was 2-0 when Cross-Adair got in front of his man and was picked out by Leigh. The forward then slid in Nelson who fired a shot which found the net under the body of the opposition goalie.
Nelson was unlucky not to add a second four minutes later when Slater found Best, who had made a bursting run into the box. The centre back pulled it back for Nelson, but he scuffed his shot.
He made amends almost immediately, though, when he received the ball from a throw-in and played in Leigh, who took a touch to set himself before drilling a low strike into the bottom corner to make it three.
On the half-hour mark, it was 4-0 after a brilliant piece of anticipation from Slater, reading the flight of a Walsall goal-kick and beating the intended target to the header. The ball fell to Nelson and he was able to break forward and unleash an outstanding shot which flew into the back of the net.
North End had been ruthless in the opening third of the match and the visitors simply could not live with them.
Leigh was pulling the strings in midfield and, in the 39th minute, he played a superb ball over the top of the opposition defence which was expertly taken down by Cross-Adair. He laid it off for his strike partner Nelson to try and complete his hat-trick, but his shot was deflected into the hands of the goalkeeper.
The Saddlers would have been relieved to hear the half-time whistle soon after, having been toyed with for the entirety of the first half.
It was much the same story after the break as Best stung the gloves of ‘keeper Zach Hedge with a rasping effort from 30 yards, before Noah Mawene dragged a shot wide after receiving the ball from Dana Amaral moments later.
On 73 minutes, Leigh saw a free-kick spilled by the ‘keeper into the path of Noah Mawene, who returned the ball to the midfielder and he hammered a second effort just wide of the post.
Right at the death, PNE had one final chance to extend their lead as Slater sent in yet another excellent cross, after being slid in by Nelson, and found Noah Mawene whose effort struck the outside of the post.
In the end, North End had to settle for four, but it had been a truly dominant display from the hosts.
Coach Andy Fensome was particularly pleased with their first-half performance.
“I thought we were excellent first half,” he said, speaking to PNE.Com after the match.
“We moved the ball quickly and we scored goals. There was some great movement, some terrific passing lines and patterns, and we created lots of chances.”
He sympathised with his players after a rather frustrating second half of trying to break down their opponents further.
He added: “It’s difficult at times to play against a team that come and put 11 behind the ball and they started time-wasting early on.
“But we have to learn to deal with that and I thought second half we still played well.
“The main thing is that they do the right things, and they continue to do the right things. We told them at half-time to keep moving the ball quickly which I felt they did in the second half.
“Okay, we didn’t score, but we still created chances.”
He was also impressed with the performance of Theo Mawene, as the defender played the full 90 minutes and didn’t look out of place at any point in spite of his young age.
“I thought he looked comfortable,” said Fensome.
“He did everything we asked him to do, moved the ball well, got forward.
“He had his brother in front of him at times, who obviously wanted to look after him, but he didn’t need to. He was comfortable on the ball and that was good for us.”
PNE line-up: Davis, T. Mawene, Slater, Leigh (C) (Rodriguez-Gentile, 77), Wallbank, Best, Eccleston (McGhee, 86), Amaral, Cross-Adair, N. Mawene, Nelson.
Subs not used: Wood, Khan, Kamara.