It was fitting that such a tremendous game was played in such fantastic surroundings. Opened in April 2000 by HRH Princess "Bites Yer Legs" Anne, the Arena cost £12 million to construct, of which £7.9 million came from the Lottery, the largest ever amount awarded to a sports project. Although part of the University of Central Lancashire it is open to both students and the community, providing quality facilities for many sports, in some cases to international standard. Gawthorpe, it ain’t.
Burnley, generally in 4-4-2, lined up: James Salisbury; Neil Trotman, Ryan Townsend, Liam Eves (capt.), Paul Scott; Stephen Richardson, Richard Chaplow, Joel Pilkington, Matthew O’Neill; Mark Rasmussen (Marc Pugh 68), Damien Hindle. Subs not used: Darryl Avery, Tom Ince, Robert Grimes.
As the teams took to the field Clarets’ fans were relieved to see that Preston would be without the prolific Kelvin Langmead. But the touchline talk soon centred on one player: Preston’s 6’7" forward Fola Onibuje. How would our defence cope with his known speed and aerial threat? Captain Liam was returning to the side, but he still hadn’t totally shaken off the back problem that had kept him out since before Christmas. How would we manage?
It didn’t take long for us to find out. Five times in the first ten minutes the ball was played up to the lanky Lilywhite. Five times he was beaten, on the floor and in the air, by Captain Courageous. When Liam was unavailable, then his central defensive partner Ryan Townsend covered admirably. For much of the remainder of the match Fola was subdued.
So bewildered were Preston that their initial onslaught had failed to break down the resolute Clarets that they allowed the initiative to swing dramatically in our favour. In the 11th minute, a sublime, flowing move involving Hindle, Richardson and O’Neill, saw the ball played through to the overlapping Scotty. Seemingly skipping past defenders at will, the young fullback cut inside the area and placed a low right-footed shot past the despairing Chris Neal. 1-0 to the Clarets, to the sounds of great rejoicing from Terry Pashley’s Claret and Blue Army.
Preston were visibly stunned, and soon afterwards Damien Hindle went close with a spectacular Paul Fletcher-like overhead kick. North End though aren’t nine points clear at the top without reason, and they soon regrouped. Left-winger Paul Carvill was enjoying a lot of the ball, but found Neil Trotman in determined mood at right back, ably assisted by the seemingly tireless Stephen Richardson. On the other flank, Scotty and Knocker O’Neill were performing similar heroics to stifle the threat of the ever-dangerous George Curwen.
Joel Pilkington and Richard Chaplow (still recovering from the effects of a viral infection) were tigerish in opposition to North End’s three central midfielders. And up front Damo and Ras chased and harried with all their strength to give the home defence, marshalled by the impressive Darren Kempson, a torrid time. And when necessary, both were more than ready to drop back to help their teammates’ determined efforts. So effective were Burnley at closing Preston down that Salty in goal had had a relatively quiet half.
Not surprisingly, neither side made any halftime changes. All 22 players had performed well in a fine, keenly-contested half; Pash would have been more than happy with the Clarets’ display, and Preston never, ever vary from their 3-5-2 formation.
As battle re-commenced Preston once again threw everything at the Clarets. But again the youngsters stood firm and had looked to have weathered the storm when, in the space of sixty sickening seconds disaster struck. First, a back pass was woefully underhit, and when the ball was squared to the unmarked Onibuje he could scarcely miss. Then, straight from the kick off Preston seized possession, charged down the right wing, and whipped in a cross for the onrushing Michael Brown to power home a header.
2-1 down after 55 minutes. With Preston and their fans jubilant, the Clarets were surely in for the sternest of tests, and the touchline faithful feared the worst.
We should have had more faith. Urged on by Captain Liam the youths rallied and once again grabbed the initiative in this pulsating game. After 69 minutes and following a scramble in the area Damien Hindle was on hand to plant the ball into the net for a richly-deserved equaliser.
The introduction of Marc Pugh then really put Preston on the back foot. His speedy, direct approach, much in the style of Brad Maylett, began to cause havoc in the North End defence as Burnley pressed forward. Indeed, he almost scored in the final minutes with a fine run and shot which the diving Neal touched round.
In the 74th minute the Clarets looked to have won it. Damo, receiving the ball in the area, turned his man superbly only to have his legs whipped from underneath him. Penalty and 3-2. But no! Much to amazement of all the supporters and the players the ref waved play on giving rise to a virtual fit of apoplexy from one of our heroes’ close relatives.
Preston, in turn, almost won it when a Carvill cross rolled along the face of the bar, but after five additional minutes the ref blew for time to end what had been an excellent, competitive derby. Honours were even, but the reaction of the Burnley players and fans at the final whistle showed the true value of this outstanding performance.
Every single Claret deserves great credit. Their attitude and commitment were exemplary, and these, combined with a display of some of the best football seen at youth level for a long time left the watching fans feeling truly PROUD TO BE A CLARET!!
Youth Team Results and Fixtures