Aaron Bennett scored a hattrick to help the youth team come from behind three times and rescue a point in an astonishing 5-5 draw against Port Vale.
An early penalty for the hosts was cancelled out by Bennett’s effort from 12 yards and Lewis Leigh scored a second equaliser for North End just before the break.
The hosts surged into a 5-2 lead within 20 minutes of the second half restart, but Bennett led a magnificent late comeback for the young Lilywhites, scoring two and setting up substitute Noah Mawene to equalise with only a minute of the 90 remaining.
There were three changes for PNE; Josh Seary, Teddy Mfuni and Mikey O’Neil coming into the side after last weekend’s Youth Alliance Cup game against Bolton Wanderers.
The visitors had the first chance when Ben Dooley crossed for Leigh at the back post, who glanced his header wide.
Vale went ahead after eight minutes when a forward was brought down after heading beyond a Lilywhites defender, with the resulting spot kick dispatched straight down the middle.
PNE were level within five minutes as Leigh drove the team forward from midfield and fed Kyi Nicholson on the right flank, who stepped inside trickily and was awarded a penalty, with Bennett converting powerfully into the bottom left corner from the spot.
But the home side immediately restored their lead through a sweetly struck, first-time effort across goal into the bottom right corner.
Chances for both sides saw Bennett head over from a deep Nicholson cross, while Oliver Lombard produced a superb one-on-one save to keep the deficit at one.
The visitors were level again a minute before the break. O’Neil cut inside cleverly from the right and crossed for Leigh, who took one touch and fired home from ten yards.
But the hosts surged into a two-goal lead only five minutes into the second half, with two almost identical goals as a pair of crosses from the left – the second a corner – were twice nodded home at the back post.
And just after the hour, Vale went through one-on-one again with the striker having time to pick his spot to extend the home side’s advantage.
Leigh could have reduced the deficit when Bennett controlled on the edge of the box and carried the ball wide to cross, with his midfield colleague well denied from close range.
But the two combined again 12 minutes from time, with Bennett’s pass in behind finding Leigh and he returned the favour by crossing for the Welshman, who converted on the bounce with a well-controlled first-time strike.
Bennett sealed his hattrick with four minutes remaining. Joe Blanchard showed remarkable composure at the back and his forward ball was shielded by Mawene into Bennett’s path, driving forward from the halfway line and shooting across goal into the bottom right corner.
The tenth and final goal came in the 89th-minute when Bennett came deep to feed Mawene 20 yards from goal, who shifted the ball out of his feet and unleashed a superb strike into the bottom left corner to complete a brilliant comeback.
Academy manager Nick Harrison felt his side played well on the whole but said there was still plenty for them to work on.
“It certainly was a crazy game and it’s mixed emotions because I’m pleased that we scored five, but really disappointed we conceded five,” Nick told PNE.Com.
“In all honesty, I thought we played really well – we had a lot of the possession, we built from the back really well, passed it well and created a number of chances. It could have ended up being 8-5 or 9-5!
“I’m pleased that we created the chances we did and scored the goals we did, and pleased that we came back from 5-2 down, but we can’t be pleased with conceding five and that’s something the group will have to work on.
“Youth team football is all about development and progression, we’ve certainly seen the players put that into action, but in terms of getting to first team level, which these boys want to, you can’t concede five goals and we need to learn to win the game.”
Nick was full of praise for first year scholar Aaron Bennett, who continued his fine form by scoring a hattrick.
“Aaron is getting better and better. He’s getting himself into a position now where he’s able to run more and yesterday was a great example of that; he ran the match and made really good decisions. The goals he scored were brilliant. He created chances by being positive, got on the end of things and deserved his hattrick – he was outstanding.”
The youth team travel to Doncaster Rovers on Wednesday for a midday kick-off in the Youth Alliance Cup, needing a victory to progress, and Nick is hoping his side can carry the momentum of this late comeback into that conest.
“We’ll work hard over the next couple of days to make sure we don’t concede too easily, but we’ll keep encouraging the players to attack and be positive. That’s what we’re all about, we’ve got to work hard as a team to stop the opposition scoring, and work hard to score goals ourselves as well. We’ll be looking to win the game and play well on Wednesday.”
PNE line-up: Lombard; Seary, Mfuni (Nevin, 50), Blanchard, Lewis; Dooley (Amaral, 64), Huddart; Nicholson (Green, 59), Leigh, Bennett; O’Neil (Mawene, 50). Subs not used: Duggan.