Preston North End teenager's ability stood out to Ryan Lowe from the very start and led to his debut against Queens Park Rangers

Mikey O’Neill’s debut in Preston North End’s first-team was a deserved step forward in his football development, says Ryan Lowe.

By Dave Seddon
Monday, 11th April 2022, 12:30 pm

The 17-year-old was a late substitute in Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Queens Park Rangers at Deepdale, replacing Cameron Archer.

Second-year scholar O’Neill has been in impressive form for the youth team and reserves this season, that prompting his inclusion in the senior picture of late and then this first time in a matchday squad.

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Preston North End Mikey O'Neill on his first-team debut against Queens Park Rangers

North End manager Lowe told the Lancashire Post: “The minute I came to the club I took a shine to Mikey in terms of his attitude, his application and obviously the way he has been playing.

"He has been the stand-out performer in the youth team so it only right that when there is an opportunity you give these kids a chance but they have to perform well week in, week out to earn it – Mikey has been doing that.

"Mikey can play anywhere up the pitch, I was contemplating putting him on in one of the ‘eight’ roles and taking Alan Browne off for a rest but I didn’t see the value in that in case we had to defend set pieces.

"Cameron Archer had worked hard so I decided to get him off and let Mikey have a little run, see if he could sneak a goal.

Mikey O'Neill gets instructions from Ryan Lowe before his Preston North End debut against Queens Park Rangers at Deepdale

"He was on for four or minutes, if an opportunity had fallen his way I would have fancied him to put it away.”

O’Neill, who has the No.39 squad number, had previously warmed-up with the squad ahead of the 0-0 draw with Huddersfield in February but didn’t make the bench.

He was also the 19th man for PNE’s visit to Cardiff in March, travelling as cover.

At the recent meet the manager evening , Lowe had told fans that they would definitely see one of the club’s younger players in first-team action, and O’Neill was clearly the one he was referring to.

There is scope for an element of experimenting in some of the remaining games as Lowe plans for next season but while still looking to pick up strong results in this campaign.

With Ched Evans and potentially Emil Riis sidelined through injury, the opportunity is there for O’Neill to be on the bench again.