The youth team progressed to the Lancashire FA Youth Cup quarter-final after an all action 3-3 draw against Fleetwood Town was followed by some James Cottam heroics in a 4-2 shootout win.
After Sam O’Halloran’s 13th minute opener for the visitors, Jack Baxter netted an equalising penalty three minutes later before Ki Smart completed the turnaround on the half hour.
However, the Cod Army equalised with a penalty of their own through Liam Collins in first-half stoppage time, and although O’Reilly pushed North End back in front moments after the break, O’Halloran again drew matters level less than 15 minutes later.
After both sides scored their first two penalties in the shootout, Cottam palmed away consecutive Fleetwood spot-kicks to ensure the Lilywhites progressed to the quarter-final.
After an intense start with few clear chances, the visitors took the lead when O’Halloran turned and shot inside the area as his effort found the bottom right corner.
Just three minutes later, though, O’Reilly earned a penalty when he chased Jack Armer’s through ball and was caught by ‘keeper Harry Turner. Baxter sent Turner the wrong way with a composed effort into the bottom right corner.
After a period of dominance without creating much, Smart turned the tie on its head for PNE in the 30th minute. Completing a superb passing move from the back, the midfielder finished from six yards with a sweet first time strike from Garstang’s left wing cross.
Turner produced an excellent point blank save to deny Smart with five minutes to go until the break, that proving an important stop as his side got back into the contest shortly after. Defender Ben Unsworth was pulled down in the box from a free-kick, leading to a Fleetwood penalty which Liam Collins tucked into the bottom right corner.
Fortunes reversed after the break, though, as this time Fleetwood missed a great chance at one end – Harrison Holgate heading over from Dominic Kerrigan’s cross – and North End countered to go back in front in the 48th mintue. Myles Mason’s persistence on the right paid off, winning it back to cross low for O’Reilly who tapped home at the back post.
Mason threatened to create another as he encouraged after switching to a more central role, but Fleetwood again drew level in the 62nd minute. Jack Bishop threaded O’Halloran into space in the area and the striker poked into the bottom right corner for his second goal.
After both sides could only threaten from range, Garstang went close for PNE in the 76th minute, combining well with Armer and substitute Josh Pollard down the left only for his low effort to be saved by Turner.
The visitors looked menacing towards the end as Cottam gathered a loose touch from the onrushing Finlayson. The Fleetwood forward had another chance deep into stoppage time, going through unopposed but placing his shot wide.
That meant penalties were in order, and after O’Neil and Smart scored PNE’s first two penalties, Fleetwood also finding the net with their first two efforts, Cottam’s stops proved the difference.
He saved both Liam Collins’ and Jack Bishop’s attempts, while Garstang and O’Reilly completed his good work by scoring the Lilywhites’ final two spot kicks.
Youth team manager Nick Harrison felt slightly disappointed that his side hadn’t won in normal time but was ultimately satisfied to see his players progress.
“It was a real cup game where both teams were trying to win and had chances,” Harrison told PNE.com. “We expected it to be tough because it’s a cup game and a local derby.
“We’re a little disappointed that we couldn’t control the game enough and ultimately win more comfortably. We had chances in the game where we just made some schoolboy-like decisions, meaning we lost control of the game and gave them an opportunity to get back into it.
“In cup games, it’s about winning and it doesn’t matter how you do that – whether it’s through penalties or extra time or normal time – so the players have shown unbelievable character to go and win the game.
“James Cottam has worked wonders in the goal to save two penalties and the lads who have taken them showed cool heads to slot them in.”
Harrison still felt there were plenty of positives to take from the game, though.
“I think the way that we created chances and the way that we took our three goals was a real positive. We always challenge the players to score more and more goals and I think we could have had even more today.
“I thought tactically, at times, we went in behind and penetrated their back line well. That’s pleasing because I didn’t think we did that well enough against Bury last time out. There’s lots of positives to take forward with the group and look forward to seeing more of that in the game on Saturday.”
The shootout win puts PNE into the quarter-final of the competition and Harrison hopes to remain in contention on all fronts for as long as possible.
“We want to win games, but we want to do that in the right way because ultimately the lads need to develop as players.
“We’re looking to stay in every competition for as long as possible, including the league, and to be successful as we can as a group which will hopefully allow the players to develop even more.”
PNE line-up: Cottam; Simmons, Fensome, Day, Armer; O’Reilly, Baxter (Pollard, 70); Smart, O’Neil, Mason (Brannigan, 78); Garstang. Subs not used: Campbell, Lenton, Jolly.