The youth team suffered their first away defeat of the season on Saturday as Rochdale came from behind to win 3-2 at Bower Fold.
Darren Brannigan and Lewis Fensome had put North End ahead at the break but Neil Kuemo and Fabio Tavares drew the hosts level with goals in consecutive minutes just after the hour mark, the latter then turning provider for Lewis Bradley to net the winner four minutes from time.
In a high tempo affair, the Lilywhites made the better start with Mike Howard twice denied by Dale goalkeeper Bradley Wade in the opening five minutes, first holding onto a 25-yard free-kick before parrying wide a driven effort from closer distance.
Wade made another impressive stop to deny Tyrhys Dolan soon after, spreading himself to block an effort heading for the bottom right corner from inside the area.
Ki Smart glanced a header just wide at the back post from Howard’s left-wing delivery before Dale got their first meaningful effort away midway through the half, Isaac Ward’s header from a corner proving a comfortable claim for Callum Roberts.
It was an entertaining contest at both ends but PNE continued to have the better chances as Darren Brannigan fired towards the top corner from distance, Wade diving to palm away before claiming Smart’s rebound.
Soon after, though, the Lilywhites took a 33rd minute lead. Jack Baxter’s raking pass down the left kick started a fine move which culminated with Howard’s low cross being met by a cool first-time finish from Brannigan into the bottom right corner.
Dolan would have doubled the lead two minutes later but for the crossbar after he intercepted Wade’s clearance 30 yards from goal, his stylish chip clipping the frame of the goal on its way over.
North End did get a deserved second just two minutes before half-time. Baxter had earned a corner when Wade turned his free-kick behind and as Howard delivered from the right, Fensome rose highest to plant a powerful header into the top corner.
Rochdale looked more dangerous in attack after the break as Roberts made a superb stop to deny Bradley from point blank distance only three minutes into the second period, the PNE stopper then holding onto a firm Kuemo drive from the left just before the hour.
However, Kuemo went one better in the 62nd minute to pull one back for the hosts. The winger evaded several challenges on the counter as he made his way into the area and kept his composure to slot into the bottom left corner.
And on the next attack, Dale were level. Tavares reacted quickest to a ball over the defence and finished into the top right corner to equalise in the 63rd minute.
North End grew in confidence once more as the final stages approached, helped by the introduction of Ethan Walker after Roberts had made some important interventions in the PNE goal.
Roberts denied Tavares from close range moments before Walker fed Howard on the edge of the box, his curled effort just clearing the bar.
Kamol Campbell beat two players to earn the space to shoot 20 yards from goal but Wade superbly tipped his drive wide.
Shortly after in the 86th minute, Dale completed their comeback. Daniel Adshead played Tavares into space down the right and when he found Bradley lurking in the area, the midfielder placed it into the bottom right corner.
Youth team manager Nick Harrison was disappointed to lose but said there was plenty of positives to take from the game, particularly in the first-half.
“We’re disappointed to lose the game because we felt that we played really well as a team and a number of individuals really excelled in the first half,” he told PNE.com.
“We really should have gone into the dressing room at half-time winning by four or five with the number of chances that we created, some of which were really clear ones, so we’re disappointed to have lost but taking the positives, we’re really happy with the way we performed in the first-half.
“If you reflect on the game, we played some really good stuff and carved them open with pace and good passing, we were really direct in terms of how positive we were in our attacking play.
“The two goals we scored were very good but really, we probably should have gone into half-time winning four or five nil and if we do that, maybe we end up winning the game after 90 minutes.”
After Dale turned it around after the break, Harrison believed his players would learn from the experience.
“I think we just maybe took our foot off the gas, which we warned the players of at half-time – when you’re winning 2-0, you are always vulnerable because the other team are going to come at you.
“We still feel we should have defended better one versus one with them running at us, and I think that gave them a bit of momentum. They’re young players and they’ve got to learn to be able to deal with that, especially when we’re 2-0 up.
“It’s definitely got be used as a learning curve. We told the players at full-time that this can’t happen again because we should win the game comfortably. Overall, we’ve got to take lots of positives from the game of how well we performed in the first-half.
“What we ask of the players next time we’re in that situation is that they learn from this and it doesn’t happen again.”
PNE line-up: Roberts; Simmons, Fensome, Day, Campbell; O’Neil, Baxter; Smart, Dolan (Garstang, 64), Howard; Brannigan (Walker 76). Subs not used: Jolly, Cottam, Mason.