PNE focus on the kids

PNE celebrate Josh Earl's opening goal against AFC Wimbledon

PNE celebrate Josh Earl's opening goal against AFC Wimbledon

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Preston’s youngsters will take centre stage at Deepdale on Monday night when they bid to reach the semi-final of the FA Youth Cup.

The PNE academy host Stoke (7pm) and admission is free in a bid to attract as big a crowd as possible.

It is the first time in 50 years that North End have reached the quarter-finals and awaiting the winners in the last four are Manchester City, who beat Aston Villa on Wednesday night. Nick 
Harrison’s side have won three home games to get this far, beating Sheffield United, Everton and AFC Wimbledon.

A penalty from skipper Melle Meulensteen got them past the Blades, with Preston beating Everton on penalties after a goalless draw.

Their 3-2 extra-time win over AFC Wimbledon was a thriller, goals from Josh Earl, Meulensteen and Alex Wood sending them through.

Academy boss Harrison said: “The lads have shown what they are capable of and have grown in confidence over the three games.

“They have worked very hard, stayed together, played some good football and done the right things at the right times.

“In two of the games they have dug deep in extra time and the work ethic was there for all to see.

“Against AFC Wimbledon they fell behind in extra time but showed the character to equalise and get the 
winner.

“We’ve got a good mix of lads, more first years than 
second years, which stands us in good stead for the future.”

Opponents Stoke battled back from being 2-0 down against Brighton in the last round to draw 2-2 and go through on penalties.

Harrison said: “We have watched them two or three times and know what they are capable of.

“Stoke are a strong team with some very good players and that will always be the case when you get down to the quarter-finals.

“I’m looking forward to the game and it is a great achievement for the lads to have got this far.

“They have put the work in and if they play with the right intensity on Monday, they will have every chance.

“We’ve got this far under the radar a bit, now we are 
getting more coverage.

“This is the first time for 50 years that the club have reached this round and we won’t want it to stop now.”

Preston manager Simon Grayson has watched the youth team’s progress with keen interest.

“It is fantastic for them to be in the last eight. I’ve been to all the games and they have knocked out some big teams,” said Grayson.

“Both Sheffield United and Everton have strong academies – Everton are a category one team.

“Wimbledon were strong and powerful in the previous round.

“The lads have experienced different things, taking the lead and falling behind before coming back to win, holding their nerve in a shoot-out.

“Hopefully they can get to the semi-final.

“If they do that it will be fantastic for the kids, Nick Harrison and Andy Fensome, who have represented the club really well.

“We have the lads down training with us quite a bit.

“On Wednesday morning there were three lads with the first-team squad. On Tuesday there were three different ones here.

“I’m not frightened of adding them into the squad, there are some decent kids coming through.”