The youth team were knocked out of the Youth Alliance Cup with a 3-0 defeat to Wigan Athletic at the northern semi-final stage of the competition.
Mwiya Malumo’s first-half brace set Wigan on their way to victory before their lead was extended with an own goal 25 minutes from time.
North End made a bright start at Christopher Park, the Latics’ academy training ground, Tyrhys Dolan having a shot deflected behind for a corner inside two minutes, from which Cameron Day headed just wide.
A flowing Lilywhites move then saw the ball worked from right to left, where Mike Howard crossed to the back post for Connor Simpson, who couldn’t divert his header goalwards.
James Cottam was first brought into action after ten minutes, when Charlie Jolley was played into space in the box but the Lilywhites stopper palmed his effort away, while Latics ‘keeper Theo Roberts made his first save with a low dive to his right to deny Adam O’Reilly from outside the box.
Ethan Walker delivered well from a wide left free-kick on 20 minutes and Simpson connected with it at the back post, but headed marginally over.
Despite the Lilywhites’ positive start, it was Wigan who opened the scoring after 23 minutes. A through ball down the centre looked to have been dealt with when Day made a brilliant challenge in the box, but the ball fell kindly for Malumo, who finished into the bottom left corner.
North End might have equalised on the half hour when Howard’s curling effort was deflected just wide, while Divin Baningime had a close range shot well blocked at the other end.
Wigan doubled their lead in the 36th minute. Malumo was on target once more, pouncing to score from a few yards out after Cottam had parried Joe Downey’s initial effort from outside the box.
The Latics went close a few times early in the second-half, as Cottam saved well from Charlie Jolley in the box before Malumo shot straight at the PNE ‘keeper from just outside the area.
But North End still showed plenty of attacking intent and might have pulled one back on a few occasions, O’Reilly first converting just wide of the bottom right corner when the ball broke to him on the edge of the box before Howard found the target from distance but left Roberts untroubled.
That duo combined to set up the Lilywhites’ best opening on the hour, O’Reilly switching the play superbly to pick out Howard’s run down the right before Roberts saved one on one, and the goalkeeper also saved well from Dolan and Walker on the rebound.
However, Wigan netted their crucial third goal shortly after in the 65th minute. Mitchell Culshaw’s initial shot from close range down the right was parried into a North End defender, that touch enough to take it over the line.
Howard might have pulled one back for the Lilywhites in stoppage time as he saw an effort well blocked by a Latics defender before firing another just over from Walker’s dangerous low cross.
North End couldn’t get a goal back, leaving Wigan as 3-0 winners, and although youth team manager Nick Harrison felt there were some pleasing aspects to take from his side’s performance, he said the goals conceded were avoidable.
“It was a funny game, because I thought it was quite even overall, but the mistakes we made for their goals was the difference,” he told PNE.com. “When we got the chances one and one, from a few yards out and a couple of shots outside the box, we didn’t take them.
“We really dominated for the first 15 minutes but we got unsettled for their first goal which we should have done better with from a defensive point of view, and the second goal is unfortunately a mistake from the goalkeeper which he will learn from.
“We then finished the first-half strongly again and on reflection, we had plenty of chances to make it even, but you shouldn’t have to score three or four goals to win a game; we’ve got to be far better at cutting out of those mistakes.
“Generally, I’m quite pleased with how players did, especially from an attacking point of view, because I thought we threatened them. It’s disappointing that we couldn’t get that end product, but we just needed that little bit of extra quality or devilment and desire to score. Overall, I was generally pleased with how we played, but you can’t win games and make those kinds of mistakes.”
Harrison was disappointed to exit the competition but is looking forward to handing more opportunities to all of the players in his squad with his side third in the North West Youth Alliance and having a Lancashire FA Youth Cup semi-final still to come.
“We just want more games, so if we had won today it would have been another game – it doesn’t matter what competition it’s in.
“This is all about development – the more games you play in, the better you develop and the more challenging games you play in, the better you become. We’re disappointed to go out of the competition, but we have got lots of games in the league to look forward to as well as the semi-final of the Lancashire FA Youth Cup.
“There will be lots of opportunities for the players, whether they’re at the older end of the spectrum or the younger ones coming through. But as well as looking at players coming through, we want players to know how to win games and get into good habits that way.”
PNE line-up: Cottam; Day (Wood, 71) Fensome, Stead (Smart, 81), Campbell (Armer, 73); O’Reilly, Baxter; Howard, Dolan (Garstang, 66), Walker; Simpson. Subs not used: Lenton.