Four things spotted as Preston North End exit on penalties in pulsating FA Youth Cup tie
Preston North End Under-18s suffered penalty heartbreak in the third round FA Youth Cup tie at Deepdale, with Coventry City winning 5-4 on spot kicks.
The Lilywhites had sent the clash to penalties deep into the second half of extra time, with centre-back Tom Wilkinson squeezing the ball in from a tight angle. The match went the distance, with Izac Khan the PNE man denied in the shoot-out by goalkeeper Luis Lines. There were big chances for both teams over the course of 120 thrilling minutes, to go with the six goals scored.
North End hit the front early doors with Theo Mawene - brother of Noah and son of Youl - slamming home brilliantly on the volley after the ball dropped to him 15 yards out. Coventry levelled matters after 25 minutes, as Aidan Dausch reacted fastest to bundle in from a corner Preston failed to clear. But, the home side rallied and retook the lead through Felipe Rodriguez-Gentile - whose low strike deflected beyond Lines in first half stoppage time.
There always felt more goals in the game though - and North End were left to rue the golden opportunities they didn't take at two-one. Two chances fell to both Rodriguez-Gentile and Mawene - the latter blazing over with the net at his mercy, after a fine solo run. But, with six minutes of normal time to play Dausch popped up again and drilled the ball into the far right corner to equalise once again for Coventry.
A fatigued North End was freshened up but Charlie Finney looked like he'd poked home the winning goal on 101 minutes. PNE kept going until the very end though and Wilkinson kept hopes alive in dramatic fashion. It ultimately wasn't to be in the shoot-out, but North End's young guns could leave with their heads held high.
Here are four things which caught our eye at Deepdale.
Younger Mawene can play
First-year pro Noah Mawene is currently looking to break into the first team picture with more regularity - he may well have his brother not too far behind. It's such early days for these lads and as we have seen in recent years, very few make the step up to the senior stage. But, Noah's younger brother Theo certainly has talent. He operated in attacking midfield, behind Preston's front two in a 3-4-1-2 system.
He took his goal exceptionally well and could've easily had one or two more on the night. T. Mawene carried himself with confidence, showed sharp close control and dribbled past defenders with ease. The youngster is a different style to his brother, with his low sense of gravity making him a tricky customer - but still with the hard work and endeavour like Noah. He fatigued in second half injury time and had to make way, but plenty will have been impressed by his display.
It's been a whirlwind year for the young forward, so much so that you forget just how young he actually is. Rodriguez-Gentile is only a first year scholar at PNE, with two years of academy football still ahead of him. The versatile attacker has been training with the first team for much of 2023, but his attitude on Tuesday night was excellent. There were no signs at all of him feeling above the level. The Argentine was vocal, industrious in his work and a final third threat.
It was probably not his best game in terms of end product, but the forward still grabbed a goal and was involved in three or four dangerous attacks. He had to deal with severe cramp late in the game, but was still the player tracking back and busting a gut to stop a Coventry break - which would've killed the tie late on. Rodriguez-Gentile took the first penalty and stuck it away, before pumping the Preston badge. It's a career in its infancy but with evident potential. For now, though, it was good to see him taking his academy football so seriously and setting an example.
Spirited, entertaining PNE
The FA Youth Cup has been a source of entertainment over the last couple of years and it's a shame the team won't embark on a similar run to last year. Their performance on the night was worthy of victory and North End will have been rueing the chances they missed to make it 3-1 in the second half. There were so many of them and that would've likely killed Coventry off.
But, credit where credit is due to the Sky Blues, who stuck at it and always carried a threat with their two or three dangerous forward players. Preston's youngsters will have been deflated and gutted come full time, but there should've been pride too. There were loose moments throughout - as expected - but the spirit and graft on show could not be faulted. PNE's U18s are certainly a team together and well drilled. Ellis Horan was relentless in his midfield work, while Wilkinson put in a solid shift along with many others.
Impressive focal point
North End's first change of the night was on 74 minutes and it was unfortunate to see Max Wilson have to make way. The number nine was visibly shattered, but he had caused Coventry problems and put in a mature centre-forward's display. Wilson is a striker of good size, clearly still learning to use his body effectively - but getting there. There is power in his game and he ran the channels all evening, while showing for the ball and making it stick on occasions. His two opportunities to score were not easy, with one early effort sent over the crossbar and the other palmed out by the goalkeeper. A goal was the only thing missing, for a player who put in a cracking shift.
PNE XI: Davis; Blake, Wilkinson, McGhee, Eccleston (Garrigan 103'), Horan, Khan, Pasiek (Goldsmith 82'), Mawene (Tarry 90+1'), Rodriguez-Gentile, Wilson (Carroll 74') PNE subs not used: Stowell, Critchley, Gairns