Adam O’Reilly and Jacob Holland-Wilkinson scored in the final 20 minutes to earn the youth team a 2-1 turnaround win against Wigan Athletic.
James Berry’s first half penalty gave the Latics, who were crowned North West Youth Alliance league champions earlier in the week, the initial advantage, but goals from the Lilywhites’ pairing ended Wigan’s unbeaten league run this season while stretching their own run to seven games without defeat.
PNE made three changes from the side which beat Port Vale at the end of last month, with Lincoln McFayden, Tyler Williams and O’Reilly in for Lewis Earl, Ben Dooley and Jerome Jolly.
O’Reilly nearly made an immediate impact, with Wigan goalkeeper Bobby Jones turning his 20-yard shot around the post, as Mitchell Culshaw looked to do similar at the other end but dragged wide.
Lewis Coulton headed straight at Jones and Scott Smith’s speculative strike was also comfortably dealt with by PNE ‘keeper Jimmy Corcoran.
There was almost an opening for O’Reilly when played into the area by Ethan Walker, but he checked his run and Jones was able to put him off his shot.
Corcoran was made to work harder when Mackenzie O’Neil threaded in Culshaw behind the defence, the Irishman off his line and spreading himself well to block the shot, before Berry shot over from a corner.
Wigan took the lead on 37 minutes when Kyle Joseph latched onto Jensen Weir’s pass over the top and was awarded a penalty when brought down by a Lilywhites defender. It was Berry who stepped up, converting coolly beyond Corcoran.
There were further chances before the break with Walker turning well outside the area for the visitors but unable to find Darren Brannigan, while Joseph cut inside from the left and drew a strong save from Corcoran at his near post.
Injury to McFayden saw the away side play with ten men for a couple of minutes before he could be replaced by Louis Potts in the final minute of the half, in which time Ryan Calvin stung the gloves of Corcoran from distance.
Calvin was at it again from left back in the second half with a brilliant run down that flank seeing him square it from the byline, his low delivery begging for a touch which did not arrive.
The visitors upped their game themselves, with Brannigan and O’Reilly hitting the target from range in quick succession, the latter drawing an especially fine save from Jones to tip over the bar.
O’Neil headed wide down the left side of the area while O’Reilly crossed brilliantly for Potts just before the hour, the Lilywhites substitute not quite able to adjust his feet to make the connection.
O’Reilly would be the scorer rather than provider with his stunning volley levelling matters on 71 minutes. Walker’s corner was headed away only as far as the Irishman, who quickly steadied himself to volley into the bottom corner from 20 yards with his left foot.
Jacob Holland-Wilkinson had emerged from the bench just before that goal and it was he who scored the winner just seven minutes from time.
O’Reilly was involved again as he set up Potts to cross from the right, his delivery getting a touch from a Wigan defender but Holland-Wilkinson pounced to shoot into the ground and in from close range.
The visitors’ work was not complete until Corcoran produced a heroic injury time stop to deny Joseph, who had been cleverly played in one-on-one by substitute Joe Gelhardt, and the forward also had a header crucially blocked before the final whistle blew.
As the Lilywhites made it seven matches unbeaten, Academy manager Nick Harrison was delighted to see his players continue their recent good form.
“What’s pleasing is that in the last few games we’ve performed really well – the team as individuals have all put a shift in, played the right way in and out of possession and that’s all we’re interested in,” he told the club website.
“This game was another example of the players working hard and performing well, which is all we can ask from them.
“I think that the character, the attitude and the work ethic that all the players showed is the reason that we got the success.”
Nick added that the focus had always been on his own team, rather than looking to end league champions Wigan’s fine run.
“That doesn’t interest us too much, we’re more interested in our players and our group,” he said of his side becoming the first side to defeat Latics in the league this term.
“It was obviously two good groups of players – we already knew that Wigan had won the league during the week and they deserved to do that.”
The Academy manager was delighted with his side’s second half improvement and praised both goalscorers, Adam O’Reilly and Jacob Holland-Wilkinson.
“Adam’s goal will hopefully be another of those goals that might be goal of the month with the LFE! It was a really well taken goal, a great strike from the edge of the box.
“Jacob’s goal comes from some great team play; we passed the ball well and got in behind them, it’s a great ball in from Pottsy and Jacob got in the right position with a really composed finish.
“I think the reason that we got into those positions was because we started to play better and after we sorted one or two things out at half-time, it’s enabled us to get on the ball more and our defensive shape was a bit better.”
PNE line-up: Corcoran; Simmons, Williams, Armer, McFayden (Potts, 45); Nolan, O’Reilly; Walker (Dooley, 83), Dolan, Coulton; Brannigan (Holland-Wilkinson, 69). Subs not used: Ngongo, Lenton.