Preston North End’s youngsters will face a big step-up in the class of opposition when they face Norwich City in the third round of the FA Youth Cup at Deepdale tonight (7pm).
The PNE academy have had quite a straight forward path to this stage, scoring 11 goals in the previous two rounds.
They beat Mansfield Town 6-1 in October, then a 5-0 win dispatched York last month.
But Norwich will be a whole different ball game, with the Canaries arriving in Lancashire as cup holders.
They beat Chelsea 4-2 on aggregate in May’s two-legged final, the home leg attracting a 22,500 crowd at Carrow Road.
So it goes without saying that PNE have a stern test on their hands this evening.
However, they will not be overawed by the task.
Andy Fensome, North End’s assistant academy coach, told the Evening Post: “It will be a tough test for the lads but one to look forward to.
“They have earned the right to play Norwich after two good wins in the previous rounds.
“In those games they played quite well and scored plenty of goals at Deepdale.
“Norwich are the holders of the FA Youth Cup, but some of their players will have moved on from the youth team since then because of their age.
“But they will be a big test, they are a category one side with big resources and have the pick of the bunch in terms of players.
“Our lads have prepared in the right way for the game.
“They have trained well and they have their instructions of how we want them to play.
“We have had Norwich watched and studied DVDs of them.
“At the end of the day, we believe in the lads and think that they can beat Norwich.
“Until the first round against Mansfield, some of the lads had not played at Deepdale before.
“They have had two tastes of playing there now, both under the floodlights, and now they have a third opportunity.
“In the league this season we have blown hot and cold which is part and parcel of youth football.”
There is plenty of talent in the PNE squad, with Jack Ryan, Joe Whittington, Nick Anderton and Tyler Forbes four of the players to have caught the eye.
Ryan helped himself to two goals in both of the earlier rounds, with winger Whittington netting twice against Mansfield and once in the York game.
Several of the youth lads have already had a taste of senior football.
Centre-forward Ryan started both of Preston’s Lancashire Senior Cup games against Southport and Wigan.
All the youngsters can draw inspiration from Josh Brownhill who has broken into the PNE first-team squad over the last couple of months.
The midfielder started this season as a regular with the youths, and he still lives in the club’s Fulwood digs with the other trainees.
Former PNE right-back Fensome said: “Development is the big part of youth football and the lads can look at Josh and see what he has achieved this season.
“As a youth department our aim is to bring players through and prepare them for first-team football.
“The second year lads are pushing hard for professional contracts at the moment, and we have got some good first years coming through too.
“We have some 15-year-olds in the squad too, they are still at school. They come in on a Wednesday and Friday, then play with us at the weekend.
“If we think they are good enough, they will get their chance.”