The youth team lost only their second North West Youth Alliance away match of the season yesterday as Bury ran out 3-1 winners at the Carrington Training Centre.
The hosts took the lead just before the half hour mark, Callum Hulme scoring from distance before Tyler Barnes headed in a second five minutes from half-time.
Lewis Fensome pulled a goal back for North End before the break but defender Bobby Copping got the Shakers’ crucial third midway through the second-half.
The visitors made the better start to proceedings, Darren Brannigan having the first opportunity as he headed wide from a Jack Baxter free-kick inside ten minutes.
Tyrhys Dolan’s strike from the edge of the box provided the first test for Bury ‘keeper Scott Moloney, who dived to his right to save following a silky run from the Lilywhites attacker.
Mike Howard then headed over from Ethan Walker’s corner before he showed great agility to intercept Moloney’s pass out from the back, but dragged his shot wide of the near post.
Dolan was next to cut out a Moloney back pass, the ‘keeper palming the resulting shot away before Kamol Campbell fired narrowly over.
Despite those opportunites, it was Bury that took the lead in the 28th minute. Joe Adams picked out Hulme 30 yards from goal, who dispatched into the top left corner via the crossbar.
The visitors continued to threaten in attack, though, as both Jack Baxter and substitute Josh Pollard stung the goalkeeper’s glove from outside the box, while Brannigan had a close-range shot blocked from a corner.
However, it was Bury that got the next goal. Saul Shotton headed an Adams free-kick into substitute Barnes’ path, who nodded into the bottom corner from just a few yards out.
The Lilywhites did pull a goal back before half-time. It was Fensome who connected with Walker’s corner, his powerful header proving too much for Moloney.
The hosts could have increased their advantage again before the break, but Campbell made a vital challenge to prevent Wealth da Silva from facing James Cottam one on one.
It was a much more even start to the second-half, although Brannigan very nearly equalised right at the start of it when he controlled Walker’s left-wing cross and was denied from just a few yards out.
At the other end, Cottam was forced into a couple of stops from tight angles as Bury attacked down North End’s right.
Just before the hour, Dolan hit a superb first time pass for Howard down the right, who raced into the box and saw Moloney produce yet another save.
But the hosts looked dangerous in attack, too, scoring their third goal in the 66th minute. A corner was only cleared as far as Copping, who controlled 10 yards from goal and curled into the bottom right corner.
Chances remained for the visitors, Josh Pollard intercepting in the final third before Moloney got in the way of his shot, while Bury’s ‘keeper turned another powerful Baxter strike behind for a corner.
Bury saw out the game well, though, North End’s best chances in the final ten minutes falling to Howard and substitute Precieux Ngongo, who headed over and wide respectively.
Youth team manager Nick Harrison was happy with his side’s performance but said improvements need to be made at both ends of the field.
“I thought it was a really, really good performance from the team and some individuals in particular,” he told PNE.com. “We really opened up Bury when we were attacking and created numerous chances that we should have scored from.
“The game is all about what you do inside both boxes. We’ve had a really strong start and if we take our chances, then we might get one and then another in quick succession and the game could be over.
“We didn’t do that and we’ve conceded a bit of a sloppy goal which we could have dealt with, it’s a good finish from the lad, but we shouldn’t give the ball away so cheaply.
“Then we’re on the backfoot a little bit and again, we concede from a set-piece which isn’t good, one of the lads didn’t track their runner and we find ourselves 2-0 down, but we showed good character to score straight after that.
“The message to the players at half-time was that we were still in the game and we just need to take one of the chances and we might end up winning the game. For all the chances we had at the start of the second-half, we concede a really sloppy third goal and then the game is over.”
Harrison added that his players must learn to convert positive performances into positive results.
“We told the players at full-time that they have to start taking responsibility to not concede goals and off the back of today’s game, the learning points are not to give the ball away cheaply in silly areas and to track your runners inside the box.
“If the players can do that, then we stand a better chance of winning games. Putting all that to one side, I thought the performance and the way we played was very, very good.
“What’s disappointing for us is that for as well as we played, the boys have come into the changing run at full-time and have lost the game.
“It doesn’t matter how often we say that the performance was brilliant because at first team level, that’s not good enough and that’s the level the players need to reach.”
PNE line-up: Cottam; Wood, Fensome, Day (Ngongo, 73), Campbell; Smart (Pollard, 33), Baxter; Howard, Dolan, Walker; Brannigan. Subs not used: Lenton, Jolly, Mason.