One poorly timed challenge cost Sheffield United dear as they were knocked out of the FA Youth Cup by Preston North End last night.
Derek Geary’s team were the dominant force throughout much of this open, absorbing and at times feisty third round tie under the floodlights at Deepdale.
But Melle Meulensteen’s fourth minute penalty proved enough to ensure it was Preston who progressed despite their goal leading a charmed life.
“Performance wise, the lads were difficult to fault,” Travis Binnion, United’s academy manager, said. “They showed their quality but the biggest lesson to be learned is the importance of being ruthless and taking the openings that come your way.”
Geary and Binnion had warned their players beforehand that coping with awkward situations is part and parcel of the professional game. After falling behind early on, United were presented with an opportunity to do exactly that. It was a test they passed with flying colours, particularly after the break. But a heroic performance from Callum Roberts, combined with referee Barry Lamb’s failure to award United a late spot-kick of their own, sent the hosts through.
Tyler Smith, whose direct running caused Preston problems all evening, should have dragged United level at the beginning of the second-half but his shot was scrambled clear by Roberts. Regan Slater also drew a fine save from the goalkeeper as Geary’s men continued to impress. But United, who also saw substitute Joseph Cummings spurn a glorious opportunity during the closing stages, were unable to claim the equaliser their efforts deserved.
“We know there’s some real talent in there,” Binnion added. “Okay, we were disappointed with how we conceded and you can pick apart certain things. But, overall, the biggest disappointment is that the result denies that talent a chance to impress on this stage.”
MORE FROM BLADES
Meulensteen, the son of former Fulham manager Rene, converted following Tom Charlesworth’s fourth minute foul on Oscar O’Neil. Preston boasted plenty of footballing heritage in their squad with the fathers of both O’Neill and Kian Smart representing the hosts at senior level. But, after falling behind, it was United who created the better chances. Jordan Hallam forced Roberts to palm clear while Smith also went close.
Although Meulensteen wasted a fine chance to double Preston’s lead towards the end of the first period, United demonstrated their willingness to stand toe to toe with the opposition when Smith tried his luck again. The midfielder’s shot was smothered by Roberts. But it did mark the start of another promising spell for the visitors as they peppered Preston’s six-yard area with cross after cross.
Smith and Slater, again impressive in midfield, were both thwarted by Roberts at the beginning of the second period as United took charge. Lamb waved away Hallam’s appeals when the striker was upended in the area before Roberts again came to Preston’s rescue when Cummings burst through.
Preston North End: Roberts, Burgoyne, Campbell, Smart, Day (Howard 87), Stead, Davidson, O’Neill (Creech 82), Garstang (Kwateng 83), Meulensteen, Earl. Not used: Lenton, Howard, Kwateng, Mason.
Sheffield United: Perryman, Charlesworth, Cantrill (Cummings 55), Gilmour, Graham, Semple, Smith, Slater, Burton (Parkhouse 67), Hallam, Mallon (Greaves 72). Not used: Warhurst, Ford.
Referee: Barry Lamb (Manchester).