Coach Andy Fensome was pleased with the reaction of Preston North End U18s to come from behind to beat Gillingham in the fourth round of the FA Youth Cup.
It was a bad start to the night for PNE, with the hosts going ahead inside the opening minute, but Felipe Rodriguez-Gentile – who scored five goals in the previous round – drew his side level before the break.
Extra-time was on the cards, before Kian Best stepped up in the 86th minute to strike home a fantastic 25-yard free-kick and in turn seal a first win of 2023 for the young Lilywhites.
Fensome said: “I’m pleased for them because we’ve had a few indifferent results leading up to the game.
“With the cup, you never quite know what to expect when you’re meeting teams who you don’t play on a regular basis.
“Obviously we put ourselves on the backfoot from the start by conceding the goal really early on, but I thought the boys rallied well.
“We played some really good football, created a couple of good chances and we got back into the game.”
The name on everyone’s lips at the minute is 16-year-old Rodriguez-Gentile, following his remarkable display in the third round victory over Rotherham United.
He took his goal very well in this one, too, after being cleverly found by Finlay Cross-Adair and the young Brazilian lofted the ball over the ‘keeper to draw PNE level.
Fenners said: “The last round was a superb performance by him, scoring five goals out of the six, and then Christmas came when the U16s had a little bit of time off.
“He came back and played last Saturday for us. He played 45 minutes to get him back into the swing of things, and then we started him yesterday.
“Again, he did really well and took his goal really well. Finlay Cross-Adair does great to turn his man but the fact he’s ready on the line of the last defender is really positive and it’s a fantastic finish.”
Into the second half, the hosts were enjoying plenty of the ball and put the North End goal under lots of pressure.
Fenners admitted it was a spell which PNE had to make sure they got through, and they did so with flying colours, as goalkeeper James Pradic came up with some big saves, while defenders threw themselves in front of efforts.
“It was important to ride that wave,” he said. “We had quite a bit of possession in the first half, but Gillingham sort of found their feet a little bit in the second.
“We knew they’d be able to pass the ball around quickly and that they’d cause us problems.
“They had that spell where we were really under the cosh and had to dig in, and that’s where you need your defensive players and your goalkeeper to stick in and do their jobs, and that’s what they did.”
That rearguard action meant North End were in a position to go up the other end late on and ensure they left Kent with a place in the fifth round of the competition.
It was Best with the match-winning goal, as he struck a beautiful free-kick through the wall and into the back of the net, before celebrating in front of the following fans and families.
Fenners added: “First and foremost he hit the target and that’s what you’ve got to do – make the ‘keeper work by hitting the target.
“To see the ball hit the back of the net is obviously a great feeling for the players and everyone really.
“The families had made the long trip down and it makes it all worthwhile for those guys that have travelled.
“For the players who have started, the players on the bench, or even those who travelled and didn’t get in the squad on the night, it makes it all worth it.
“To finish like that at the end of the game, when the lads were tired, it was a great feeling for them and the parents hopefully.”