A 14-minute first half hat-trick from Mikey O’Neill was the highlight in a dominant performance from a young Lilywhites side, as they kept up their excellent form in the Central League.
O’Neill grabbed his treble with three well-taken strikes, all from the edge of the penalty area, between the 22nd and 36th minute, to give the side – taken by Academy manager Nick Harrison – a 3-0 half-time lead.
Teddy Mfuni then made it four from close range, after an Adam O’Reilly corner, before Joe Rodwell-Grant grabbed his fifth goal of the season in the competition to round-off an excellent afternoon at Birmingham FA.
O’Reilly was the most experienced member of a youthful side, skippering the XI that included seven scholars, three of them being first years, and it was the Irish midfielder that led from the front in the opening stages, winning the ball in midfield, beating two men, before firing just over from 20 yards in the sixth minute.
The first real clear-cut chance came when Lewis Leigh played the ball into Josh Seary, who in turn found O’Neill; he rode a challenge as he came in from the right and fired goalwards, Tommy Jackson in the Saddlers goal making his first fine save of the game to tip the ball behind for a corner.
But the PNE No.10 was not to be denied four minutes later as Harry Nevin played the ball forward. Rodwell-Grant took the ball under control and laid it off to O’Neill, who shot low from the edge of the box into the bottom right corner.
It was almost two within 60 seconds, as Mfuni rose highest to meet an O’Reilly corner from the right, 15 yards out, but his powerful effort flashed wide of the right-hand upright.
O’Neill got his second on 34 minutes. This time a ball into Rodwell-Grant allowed the forward to run at the Walsall defence, firing in a shot from the edge of the ‘D’. It came back off a defender and fell to his strike partner, who drove an excellent finish with his right foot into the bottom left-hand corner.
And less than two minutes later he completed his hat-trick, as this time Noah Mawene picked up the ball in his own half, drove forward and then played a perfectly weighted ball through for O’Neill, who took one touch before burying his shot into the bottom left corner, again from 20 yards out.
He was denied a fourth before half-time by an offside flag which appeared harsh, albeit when an initial shot came off Jackson, it looked like it came back off O'Neill's arm before going into the back of the net.
Josh Seary was replaced by Finlay Wallbank at half-time, but the game continued in the same vein after the interval – Jackson making his best save so far on 49 minutes to deny Rodwell-Grant, who was cutting in from the left, putting the ball behind.
But the relief lasted seconds, as O’Reilly’s ball in from the right bounced around in the penalty area and centre half Mfuni fired home from the edge of the six-yard box.
And it was five on 52 minutes when O’Neill this time turned provider, as he slid in Rodwell-Grant who bore down on Jackson, who managed to get something on the striker’s shot, but the ball squirmed under him and into the net.
Chances continued to come, with Rodwell-Grant denied his own hat-trick by two excellent saves from the Walsall stopper, with Mawene involved in both moves.
Mawene himself headed just wide from Leigh’s cross from a left-wing free-kick just after the hour mark and Rodwell-Grant also put a headed effort just wide, this time from Jacob Slater’s perfectly-weighted ball from the left.
The final opportunity of the game went to the captain; O’Reilly sent clear by Mawene, firing a vicious effort on target, only to see Jackson make his final and best save of the game, as it ended 5-0 to the visitors.
Walsall line-up: Jackson, Baldwin, Taylor (Shaw, 46), Worley (c), Derry, Cristofaro (Angafor, 82), Onabirekhanlen, Maher, Edwards (Wisdom, 62), Simcox, Manton. Subs not used: Hedge, Sawyers.
PNE line-up: Lombard, Mfuni, Blanchard, Leigh, Nevin, O’Reilly, Seary (Wallbank, 46), Mawene (Amaral, 84), Rodwell-Grant, O’Neill (Cross-Adair, 68), Slater (Green, 77). Sub not used: Pradic.