The youth team secured top spot in their Youth Alliance Cup group in emphatic style with a 6-1 away victory against Lincoln City.
Adam O’Reilly’s shot deflected in off Darren Brannigan moments before half-time, and the striker scored two more within five minutes of the restart to complete his hattrick, before O’Reilly and Oscar O’Neil scored either side of the hour.
Lincoln pulled one back with less than 20 minutes to go but Jack Armer restored the five-goal margin eight minutes from time to cap a superb performance from North End.
The Lilywhites took control of the first-half almost immediately and had the ball in the net inside ten minutes, but Cameron Day’s header was disallowed for offside.
Harry Troop touched a cross wide for the hosts shortly after, with Oscar O’Neil hitting the target with a pair of headers at the other end but was denied by ‘keeper Matty White on both occasions.
Just before the half hour, Ki Smart finished coolly inside the box from O’Neil’s defence splitting pass, but he was also denied by the offside flag.
Callum Lenton then made a great save from Lincoln’s Ritchie Burdett, the North End stopper spreading himself well to block the midfielder’s shot from point blank range.
The visitors deservedly took the lead in the 40th minute. O’Reilly took aim 20 yards from goal with his shot heading for the target, but a slight touch off Brannigan diverted it past White for the opener.
Lincoln might have equalised either side of the break, attacking down PNE’s right. Ellis Chapman dragged a cross-cum-shot just wide of the bottom right corner, with Troop unable to touch it home, and after the switch of ends, two shots from the left flashed wide of the bottom right corner.
The Lilywhites remained dangerous in attack, though, and doubled their lead in the 47th minute. Brannigan took the ball in the left corner of the box, flicked it past a Lincoln defender and placed his shot into the bottom right corner.
In the 50th minute, Brannigan completed his hattrick. Some confusion between the Lincoln ‘keeper and a defender presented the striker with a free run on goal as he finished into an empty net.
The goals continued to flow as O’Reilly made it four in the 54th minute. The Irishman did brilliantly to win the ball back inside Lincoln’s box and finish into the bottom left corner from 10 yards.
Brannigan nearly scored another just after the hour when Armer crossed superbly to the back post from the left byline and the striker’s header was deflected over for a corner.
In the 64th minute, though, PNE extended their lead yet again. It was a driving run from midfield by O’Neil as he rushed into the right side of the area and unleashed a brilliant strike into the bottom right corner just as he got into the box.
Lincoln pulled one back in the 71st minute, as the hosts profited from an awkward backpass which resulted in an own goal.
But there was no let up from the visitors, completing the afternoon’s scoring on 82 minutes. Alex Wood’s corner from the right caused a scramble in the box, and as Day nudged it to Armer, he hammered it into the roof of the net from close range.
Myles Mason could have scored late on when he had a shot blocked after a mazy run into the area, but the Lilywhites had already done more than enough for a fantastic win.
The victory sends the Lilywhites into the northern quarter-finals of the Youth Alliance Cup, and Professional Development Phase coach Andy Fensome was delighted with the team’s performance.
“The team that went out today had a job to do, needing to either win or draw, but we wanted to win and top the group and they’ve achieved that today,” Fensome told PNE.com.
“Considering the long trip we had, I thought the boys were really up for the game, they were nice and lively and they started the game well. But for the ‘keeper making a couple of good saves, we could have scored three or four in the first-half but it was nice to get five in the second-half.
“Winning the game in the way we did is brilliant and to score six in any game is a good achievement, that’s fantastic for the team."
Fensome was pleased to see the team bounce back having failed to win their last two, and for those who came into the side, with five changes made from the last outing, a 3-3 draw away to Fleetwood.
“The lads who came in today played really well, which proved in the result, and the players who scored took their opportunities really well. It’s brilliant for the lads who have played today to get a good win and progress in the cup.
“Darren Brannigan scored a hattrick which will do him good as a first-year just before Christmas, Jack Armer and Adam O’Reilly are also first-years and have got on the scoresheet and Oscar O’Neil got the other one.
“We were offside far too many times in the first-half and we mentioned that to the players at the break, and after that, they gave themselves that extra half a yard. They were quick enough and fit enough to get onto the through balls and score the goals.
“It was good to see the lads bounce back and go into the Christmas break with a win behind them.”
PNE line-up: Lenton; Wood, Day, Ngongo, Armer; Baxter (Pollard, 61); Smart, O’Neil, O’Reilly (Simmons, 61), Jolly (Campbell, 78); Brannigan, (Mason, 78). Subs not used: Cottam.