Oscar O’Neil scored an 86th minute winner as the youth team came from behind to beat Walsall 2-1, making it five wins in a row for North End’s youngsters.
Mitch Candlin broke the deadlock for the visitors only moments after the half-time interval, but Tom Stead headed home an equaliser within five minutes before O’Neil popped up with the decisive goal four minutes from time.
Harry Garstang produced the standout moment of a quiet opening half, unleashing a powerful strike against the left-hand post from 25 yards after a quarter of an hour.
But arguably the best chance of the first 45 minutes fell the visitors’ way, just before the half hour. Dylan Parker raced into the Lilywhites’ area after his side were given advantage in midfield, and although he didn’t make the best connection with his low shot, a slight deflection forced goalkeeper James Cottam into an important stop.
Ki Smart crossed to O’Neil from the right flank moments before the break, the midfielder just unable to make proper contact with his header, and that pair combined once more shortly after the break.
The midfield duo reversed roles as O’Neil delivered with his left foot from the right towards on onrushing Smart at the back post, who fired just over on the move.
But the visitors reacted quickly and immediately went up to the other end of the field to score in the 48th minute. Candlin chased a ball over the PNE backline and slotted a cool finish into the bottom left corner from inside the box.
However, North End responded admirably and levelled matters in the 53rd minute. Jack Baxter was the provider, curling a corner from the left side towards the back post where defender Stead rose well and planted a looping header back across goal and into the top left corner.
That equaliser seemed to open the game up, with both sides having more chances on goal as Alex Wood saw his cross cleared marginally wide of the left-hand post, taking it behind for a corner from which Adam O’Reilly had a close range shot collected.
The visitors showed promise from set pieces too and almost profited from a corner routine when Joe Cairns met Kian Flanagan’s skimming delivery with a low strike which looked to be drifting just wide before North End cleared.
But the Lilywhites increased the pressure towards the end of the contest, with substitute Darren Brannigan going close from a Kamol Campbell cross moments before that attacking intent paid off for the hosts.
Indeed, O’Neil completed the hosts’ second-half comeback with less than five minutes to go. Mike Howard’s testing cross from the left side troubled Walsall’s ‘keeper, and although he managed to tip it onto the crossbar, the North End midfielder was perfectly placed to finish from a few yards out.
There was still time for Walsall to provide a scare or two, Campbell first sliding superbly to block a Luke Little strike before Cottam produced a fantastic stop to deny Candlin from close range deep into stoppage time.
Brannigan also had the chance to extend the hosts’ lead late on, bearing down on goal before his shot was blocked, but the Lilywhites had ultimately done enough for a fifth consecutive win.
Youth team manager Nick Harrison was pleased to see his side come from behind to beat Walsall.
“I thought it was a really good game and Walsall came here to compete," he told PNE.com. "It was quite an even game throughout but we just edged it with a little bit of quality at the right moments.
“It’s important our players switch on and stop the opposition from getting in between us and in behind us, and I thought we did that really well today and our shape was really good. We maybe didn’t break quickly enough at times and the intensity in key moments wasn’t quite there.
“But we’re pleased, firstly with the performance, how we defended as a team and how hard the players worked, and secondly that the players have got the three points.
“The players have again shown great character to come from behind and that’s something they’ve done before. They worked hard throughout to keep going and to get the winner towards the end of the game.”
Harrison added that he is delighted with his side’s current form, with the U18s unbeaten in six and having won their last five.
“We have a great belief in the players and we believe we have got good players. We’re looking at performances more than results, but I do think the players believe that they can go and win games and that’s a really good habit to have.
“We just want to do well in every game and for the players to perform well, and if they win, that’s brilliant for them. We’re looking at the development and performances of the players and over the last five or six games, they have performed really well and long may that continue.
“The players are growing up and working hard together and obviously the work rate that they’re putting in is the reason for all their successes. That needs to continue and if they can carry on winning games then that’s fantastic.”
PNE line-up: Cottam; Wood (Dolan, 84), Stead, Lyons (Brannigan, 71), Campbell; O’Neil, Baxter; Smart, O’Reilly, Howard; Garstang (Armer, 49). Subs not used: Day, Lenton.