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[Archived] News Article -> 2011/12 Pre-Season: Preston North End 1 Rovers 1

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Preston North End (0) 1 – 1 (0) Blackburn Rovers
Hume Maclaren
Referee: D. Handley Attendance: 1,288
Blackburn Rovers won 3-1 on penalties

Amidst the gloom that has enveloped Ewood Park in recent weeks, it was, once again, left to the club's younger contingent to provide a beacon of light. With the seniors and a number of reserves away in Hong Kong, Gary Bowyer was left with no option but to field a fairly young side against a Preston team that boasted several first-team regulars. On paper it should have been no contest, but fortunately football is not played on paper and with a slice of good fortune the Ewood youngsters were able to defy the odds and carry off the Lancashire Senior Cup.

It is one of the anomalies of this particular competition that the final of the previous season's competition is now a curtain-raiser to the new campaign. Thus, Michael Potts, who had been a regular for the Reserves last season, was on duty with York City rather than collecting a winners' medal along with his former teammates.

A large crowd had gathered at the Lancashire F.A. Headquarters at the County Ground, Leyland, with the majority of the support favouring North End. Amongst the impressive line-up that the Deepdale club paraded were former Manchester United 'keeper Roy Carroll, Clarke Carlisle, on a season-long loan from Burnley, and former Rover Keith Treacy.

The Rovers took the game to North End from the very beginning and Carroll was quickly into the action making one or two decent saves. However, with the game barely ten minutes old it was North End who had the first clear-cut opportunity to open the scoring. Iain Hume flicked the ball on with his head for Neil Mellor to run onto the ball only to see his effort fly wide.

Treacy then left young Jackson Ramm for dead with a deft piece of footwork, but, having broken free, his cross was rather too strong and flew harmlessly wide. Treacy was in the thick of it again when he played in a lovely ball that enabled Hume to get in behind the Rovers' defence. Matthew Urwin raced out of goal to meet him, but Hume took the ball round him only to see his shot blocked by Gavin Gunning, who was able to deflect the ball for a corner. It was an excellent piece of defending by the Irish Under-21 international. From the resultant corner Brian McLean met the ball perfectly and his powerful header seemed destined for the net until it struck the diving Urwin and flew out towards the edge of the area. Treacy immediately latched onto the loose ball and struck a fierce shot which hit the post and rebounded to safety.

Undeterred by the increasing North End pressure, the Rovers' youngsters began to make their own opportunities thanks to their neat inter-passing. James Knowles and Robbie Cotton looked a formidable pairing in the centre of midfield, while Gunning gave an immaculate performance in the heart of defence. Indeed, the Rovers might well have taken the lead when the ball was played into the area for Cotton, who, on stretching to reach the ball, saw his shot fly over the bar.

Both sides were unchanged at the start of the second half and Cotton picked up any early booking with a rash challenge in the middle of the park. Eleven minutes into the second half the Rovers took an unexpected lead when Knowles clipped the ball over the North End defence and found Jamie Maclaren, who had nipped in behind Carlisle, in acres of space. The young Australian showed an exquisite touch in controlling the ball before he blasted it past Carroll.

The goal rocked North End and it took some time for them to regain their composure. However, Treacy and Nicholson both fired over as they gradually began to push the Rovers back. Hanley was the second Rover to go into the book for a rash, and somewhat unnecessary, challenge. Phil Brown brought on Danny Mayor to play on the right wing as he looked to up the pace of the North End attack. However, when the equaliser came it was Treacy who was, predictably, instrumental in the construction of the goal with a pin-point cross that found the head of Hume. The North End striker looped the ball into the far corner of the net. It was just reward for Hume, who was undoubtedly the one Preston player who really caught the eye with his non-stop running.

A couple of minutes later North End ought to have taken the lead when the ball found its way to Mellor from a corner-kick. Despite being no more than three yards from goal and totally unmarked, the former Liverpool striker contrived to fire his shot well wide of goal.

Brown made two more changes as his side continued to press forward and Bowyer responded by adding the fresh legs of Jadan Hall to replace the tiring Osawe. With the game moving into the final five minutes, it looked as if North End had snatched a late winner. A cross from the right landed at the feet of Mellor and his first-time effort hit the underside of the crossbar and appeared to drop down behind the line before bouncing out and being cleared. The referee immediately looked at the linesman, who kept his flag down and waved play on. If Lady Luck smiled on the Ewood Park youngsters at that instant, it was fully deserved as they had given a battling performance which combined endeavour with no little skill.

Full-time brought the added drama of a penalty shoot-out and the Rovers made the perfect start when Knowles planted his spot-kick into the back of the net. Hume took the first penalty for North End, but Urwin managed to keep it out to give the Rovers an early advantage. Unfortunately, Reece Hands, who has already scored three penalties this pre-season, saw his effort fly high and wide and when Nicholson powered his spot-kick into the back of the net, it was honours even. Gunning then took a fast bowler's run up before blasting the ball past Carroll. Carlisle then strode up, but smacked the crossbar with his effort to give the Rovers the advantage. Hanley, the under-18 full-back, sent his shot over the bar before Mellor completed a miserable afternoon when he saw Urwin make a fantastic save to keep his effort out. Maclaren stepped up in the knowledge that if he converted his spot-kick, the Rovers would be crowned Lancashire Senior Cup winners. Showing not the slightest sign of nerves, the young Aussie struck the ball into the net to give the Rovers an unlikely, but thoroughly deserved, victory.

This was a team performance in every sense of the word, but a word of praise must go to the efforts of Knowles in midfield and Gunning at the back. Knowles was perpetual motion in the centre of midfield and constantly probed the North End defence with a series of telling passes. Gunning organised a young defence exceptionally well and, despite the odd error, gave an impressive performance in the centre of the back line. Again, regular watchers of the Reserves are left to wonder what the future holds for Gunning with the arrival of Myles Anderson. Gunning appears the superior and more experienced player and yet it is Anderson who is favoured with being in the first-team squad in Hong Kong.

Others who caught the eye were Robbie Cotton and Matty Pearson, and, of course, Matthew Urwin proved the hero in the penalty shoot-out.


Preston North End

Roy Carroll; Conor McLaughlin (Daniel Devine 81), Brian McLean, Clarke Carlisle, Reece James; Paul Coutts (Danny Mayor 72), Adam Barton, Barry Nicholson, Keith Treacy (Doyle Middleton 81); Iain Hume, Neil Mellor
Subs not used: Dominic Comrie, Jamie Proctor
Manager: Phil Brown

Blackburn Rovers

Matthew Urwin; Jackson Ramm, Matty Pearson, Gavin Gunning, Raheem Hanley; Micah Evans (Ryan Edwards 90), Robbie Cotton, James Knowles, Reece Hands; Osayamen Osawe (Jadan Hall 84), Jamie Maclaren
Subs not used: Christopher Dilo (gk), Tom Paul
Coach: Gary Bowyer

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