BURTON Albion’s Professional Development Phase side’s run in this season’s EFL Youth Alliance Cup came to its conclusion after Preston North End staged a second half comeback to run out 2-1 winners in Tuesday’s semi-final.
A late first half penalty from Callum Niven gave the Young Brewers a one-goal lead at half time in Lancashire, but goals after the break from Teddy Mfuni and Aaron Bennett sent the Lilywhites into the Northern final of the competition.
Despite Preston starting the game the stronger of the two sides, it was Albion who controlled the first period. The first significant chance fell to the visitors in the eighth minute after Drew Robinson battled hard to win possession in midfield, before playing a ball through to Niven, who smashed his shot over the bar from range.
Burton caused North End more problems in the tenth minute of the game, this time from a long throw-in. Finn Delap launched the ball into the box, where Niven rose well to head his effort firmly into the hands of James Pradic.
Preston’s first meaningful chance came in the 19th minute after some great link-up play on the left wing ended with Jacob Slater curling a low cross into the box, where Mikey O’Neill curled his shot just wide of the post.
O’Neill again came close to breaking the deadlock three minutes later after Bennett played a perfectly-lofted through ball to the forward who was one-on-one with Greg Lewis, but the goalkeeper rushed out well to deny him in acrobatic fashion.
As the first half progressed, Burton began to really stamp their authority on the game. Niven went close in the 30th minute after a lofted ball from Delap found him 25 yards from goal, with the striker volleying his shot narrowly wide of the target.
Another long ball forward then caused the Preston defence problems; this time Max Raine picked out Niven, who was bearing down on goal before being taken out by Kian Best, which resulted in a spot-kick to Albion.
Captain NIVEN stepped up and smashed his penalty into the bottom-left corner of the goal, which put the Brewers ahead in the 39th minute of the game.
Burton’s final chance of the half came in the 44th minute when Niven played the ball into the path of Raine, but his low left-footed shot from inside the box was pushed away for a corner.
HALF-TIME: PRESTON NORTH END 0-1 BURTON ALBION
The second half started with a flurry of Preston chances, and the home side drew themselves level in the 51st minute. Bennett’s corner was flicked on by Slater at the far post, and Mfuni was on hand to head home from close range.
Jakub Niemczyk seemed to be Burton’s brightest spark after the break, with the winger very unlucky not to etch his name onto the scoresheet.
The closest Niemczyk came to scoring was in the 56th minute after he won the ball in the Brewers box following a Preston corner. The Pole went on a sensational solo run, carrying the ball to the edge of the Lilywhites’ box, where he fired his shot straight at Pradic.
Twelve minutes later the hosts were in front after Bennett tried his luck from range, and unfortunately for the Brewers, his shot took a big deflection off Robinson, which deceived Lewis in the Burton goal.
Albion’s final chance of the game came in the 84th minute after Niemczyk drew a foul 30 yards from goal. Niven stepped up and curled the free-kick into the grateful arms of Pradic, who the visitors were ultimately unable to force a second goal past.
FULL-TIME: PRESTON NORTH END 2-1 BURTON ALBION
GOALS: Niven (39)
BREWERS: Lewis, Radcliffe, Hill, Hazell (Emery 77), Delap, Robinson, Nyahwema, Williams, Niven (c), Niemczyk, Raine (Bennett 82). Subs not used: Moore (GK), Maginness, Power