Preston North End manager challenges youth duo to have regular involvement at first-team level

Preston North End manager Ryan Lowe has challenged Aaron Bennett and Mikey O’Neill to force their way into first-team contention after they signed professional contracts at Deepdale.

By Dave Seddon
Thursday, 12th May 2022, 8:00 am

O’Neill has had a taste of senior action in three substitute run-outs, with Bennett having trained with Lowe’s squad of late at Euxton.

Now with the ink drying on their deals – O’Neill’s until June 2024 and Bennett’s until next summer – the hard work really begins.

There is an extra year’s option on both of them in North End’s favour.

Preston North End's Mikey O'Neill replaces Emil Riis in the win over Middlesbrough at Deepdale

Lowe said: “Mikey is a young kid, working his way up, trying to get up to the first team.

"He is a fantastic talent and will be even better. The easy part is getting there, the hardest part is staying there.

"I’m sure he will have a big future at Preston North End.”

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Aaron Bennett in training with Preston North End ahead of the Middlesbrough game. Pic: Ian Robinson/PNEFC

Bennett’s pathway to his pro deal and potential involvement in the first team hasn’t been straight forward.

He has been touted for a future in the game since before he signed scholarship forms, having caught the eye in the PNE’s academy.

The attacking midfielder played for the Under-18s in a friendly when he was just 13.

But his progress was halted when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament at the back end of last season and needed surgery to repair it.

Bennett returned to action in February and bagged himself 11 goals for the Under-19s in league and cup.

He netted a hat-trick on the day the youth team clinched the North West Youth Alliance title with an 8-1 win at Port Vale, then scored in last week’s Youth Alliance Cup national final victory at Luton.

Lowe said: “We’ve been very happy with the way Aaron’s returned from injury and he’s been scoring plenty of goals in that attacking eight role with the academy.

“It’s a challenge for him now to get himself as fit as possible and to come back in pre-season firing on all cylinders.

“He’s been up with the first team in the past few weeks and seems to have settled in well, so we’re looking forward to taking another look at Aaron in pre-season.

“He’s seen that we’ve given his mate Mikey the chance and we’re hopeful a few more can push their way in as well.”