The youth team hit the woodwork twice and missed a late penalty as they slipped to an unfortunate 1-0 defeat against Carlisle United.
The young Lilywhites paid the price for a slow start, as Max Brown’s strike after two minutes proved to be the difference between the teams.
There were four changes in the North End side which lost to Wrexham the previous week, U16 striker Louis Potts one of the incomers as he made his first appearance for the youth team.
The young attacker would go on to impress, but the opening moments of the match belonged to the visitors, who capitalised on their first opportunity to go ahead.
There were less than 100 seconds on the clock when Brown took down a cross from the right in the box, turned away from a defender and fired into the bottom left corner with his left foot.
Four minutes later, North End ‘keeper Callum Lenton produced a great save to prevent the visitors from doubling their lead, palming away Liam McCarron’s strike from outside the box before the Carlisle man saw another effort from range edge past the post.
The home team’s first sight of goal came after 13 minutes, as the ball dropped for Cameron Day on the volley, his effort hitting the target but leaving goalkeeper Regan Ward untroubled.
Their first major opening was midway through the first-half when Potts broke down the right side of the box thanks to a quick one-two with Adam O’Reilly, the striker placing his shot towards the far bottom corner only for it to be blocked.
Carlisle were well denied by Lenton again just after the half hour when he tipped away Belchior Papa’s swept effort from the right side of the area.
Less than ten minutes later, Papa was presented with another great opportunity but he tapped Liam Brockbank’s delivery wide from just a few yards out.
Ethan Walker, who replaced an injured Jolly late in the first-half, provided a threat cutting in from the left in the second-half, very nearly equalising for North End just before the hour.
Tyrhys Dolan sent Potts into space down the right and the striker sent a superb low cross to the back post for Walker, who struck well first time but his placed effort crashed against the crossbar.
The hosts opened up Carlisle more in the final 20 minutes as Day’s glancing header from a corner was cleared and Jack Baxter almost caught out Ward in the Carlisle goal with a low free-kick from a tight angle down the right which was turned behind for a corner.
Walker went close after drifting inside from the left and unleashing a powerful shot just wide of the top right corner, while the windy conditions almost helped a deep Baxter free-kick into the top corner, but it instead looped just over
The Lilywhites could have won it in the last four minutes of normal time alone as they were first awarded a penalty in the 86th minute, Jay Kelly seeing red for an off the ball incident at a corner. Baxter stepped up confidently, but his spot kick went over the crossbar.
Then, in the 90th minute, Walker was again picked out on the left side of the box, this time by O’Reilly’s cross, but he couldn’t beat the angle as his strike hit the outside of the post and went wide.
The Cumbrian side held on for the three points, leaving youth team manager Nick Harrison disappointed by the result but more encouraged by his side’s performance.
“From a performance point of view, we’ve been better much today than in previous weeks,” he told PNE.com. “We’ve passed the ball better and created more chances but you have to put the ball in the back of the net and we’ve not done that.
“We’ve got young players involved in the group at the moment, so decisions aren’t always perfect but overall, I thought we used the ball well and created a number of chances, we just needed to be more clinical to get a positive result out of the game.
“I felt we really dominated the game but that was also down to the fact that they were protecting a 1-0 lead. It’s disappointing how we conceded the goal because there are little errors from a defensive point of view which we could have dealt with.
“It’s disappointing we didn’t keep a clean sheet but even with that in mind, we had enough chances to win the game by two or three goals. The players have got to be a lot more clinical in front of goal.”
A total of seven first-year scholars and three U16s were involved at some stage for the Lilywhites and Harrison felt confident that if his young side can maintain their performance levels, improved results will follow.
“As it’s getting towards the end of the season, we’re getting a number of young players coming into the squad. Louis Potts made his first appearance for the U18s today and we also had Ethan Walker and Tyrhys Dolan from the U16s on the pitch, as well as several first-year scholars.
“We’re delighted with the way they performed today but their objective as footballers is to win games and they need to learn to do that quickly.
“I think we’ve just got to keep creating the chances; we believe we’ve got quality players. Today just hasn’t gone for us, we’ve hit the post, hit the bar and missed a penalty, so it could have been a completely different story.”
PNE line-up: Lenton; Fensome, Day, Armer, Campbell (Simmons, 60); O’Reilly, Baxter; Dolan, Smart (Pollard, 60), Jolly (Walker, 37); Potts. Subs not used: Ngongo, Cottam.