The youth team were forced to settle for a 1-1 draw against Morecambe on Saturday.
Precieux Ngongo put the Lilywhites ahead inside ten minutes but Tyler Brownsword equalised for the visitors with the midpoint of the first-half approaching.
It was a frantic start with North End having more of the ball but Morecambe showing more of a threat in the final third as Joe Nelligan twice broke down the right and crossed, Kyle Hawley first tamely heading straight at Callum Lenton before Henry Dorward nodded just wide.
The hosts took the lead with their first clear opportunity in the tenth minute. Ethan Walker fizzed in a corner from the left and his delivery took a touch on its way to the back post, where Ngongo controlled and poked it home.
PNE continued to dominate possession but their opponents looked dangerous in the air, particularly from set pieces, Hawley heading over unmarked providing a warning sign.
Indeed, just moments after that opportunity, the Shrimps drew level in the 21st minute. Hawley connected with another corner and although his effort was this time blocked, the loose ball fell kindly for Brownsword, who converted with a powerful first-time finish.
North End upped a gear in the final stages of the half with a number of clear chances falling their way. Josh Pollard forged one for himself just after the half hour when he intercepted a defender’s clearance in the box, but the Morecambe man managed to deflect his resulting shot wide.
Jack Baxter very nearly sent Tyrhys Dolan one-on-one against goalkeeper Ollie Jumeau with a cutting pass through the middle, but the visiting stopper just won the race to the ball.
Ethan Walker went one better moments later as he slipped Dolan into space in the box following a superb run inside from the right, but the latter shot just wide of the bottom left corner.
Adam O’Reilly also crossed for Pollard deep into stoppage time with a perfect right-wing delivery, but his header narrowly cleared the crossbar.
The Lilywhites started the second half as they began the first, Jerome Jolly first being denied by the leg of Jumeau in the box before the winger also shot straight at goal.
Morecambe might have taken the lead a couple of times before the hour but Lenton remained strong in goal, saving Leif Davis’ piledriver from outside the area and getting everything behind Kai Herbert’s effort from closer range, before Hawley shot high and wide of the right-hand post.
A quiet period of the game passed before the home side again finished the half strongly. Jolly was unfortunate not to score a winner six minutes from time when he leapt superbly to meet Jack Armer’s lofty left-wing cross, beating Jumeau in the aerial duel but glancing his header wide.
Walker showed great panache late on racing into the box, but perhaps overplayed it slightly with his two subsequent shots on goal both blocked as the two sides left with a point each.
Youth team manager Nick Harrison felt the Lilywhites were the better side overall, but wanted to see his team show that for more prolonged periods during the game.
“It was a bit of a scrappy game and it took us some time to get going,” he told PNE.com.
“When we got going and we passed the ball properly and the movement was good, I thought we looked very good, we opened up Morecambe well and created a few chances. What’s frustrating is that we didn’t do right from the start of the game.
“We were the more dominant side overall but we would expect that. Morecambe were a threat from set plays, we spoke to the players about that beforehand but we gave too many corners and free-kicks away and didn’t deal with the ball into the box which led to their goal. Apart from that, we looked comfortable at the back really.
“Where we let ourselves down was by not taking the golden chances that we had, with three one-on-ones and a free header, almost an open goal, that we should score from. Although it’s pleasing that we dominated parts of the game, we’re disappointed to have drawn and not won it.”
With three U16 players involved again, Harrison is optimistic that their inclusion – along with a number of first-year scholars – will put the team in a good position going into next season but first of all in the next game, a Lancashire FA Youth Cup semi-final against Oldham Athletic on Tuesday.
“That’s exactly why we do that, it goes to back what this is all about – their development. The latter parts of the season allow us to develop the younger players coming through and hope that they work with the existing players that we have so that they benefit going into the new season.
“I think that’s working well and the young lads coming up are performing well, and hopefully they can do that again on Tuesday, which is going to be a really tough game.”
“The players are going to have to recover because it’s going to be the same group that are involved on Tuesday. It will be tough on the legs but they’re young lads and I’m sure they will be raring to go.
“I think the players will be looking forward to a semi-final of the cup with the hope of getting through to the final.”
PNE line-up: Lenton; Simmons (Earl, 46), Ngongo, Armer, Campbell (Day, 46); O’Reilly, Baxter; Walker, Pollard (Nolan, 67), Jolly; Dolan. Subs not used: Cottam, Mason.