Preston North End U19s returned to league action at the weekend and fell to a 4-2 defeat away at Oldham Athletic.
Finlay Cross-Adair headed his team in front after just three minutes but the Latics equalised 12 minutes later before taking the lead right before the break.
The hosts extended their lead in the 65th minute with a penalty before Cross-Adair grabbed his second as North End launched a late fightback to no avail when in the final moments, the Oldham forward caught them on the break and put the outcome beyond any doubt.
It was a disappointing morning for the U19s after pulling off a hard-earned 3-2 win over Luton Town just five days before, setting up a mouth-watering clash with Southampton in the FA Youth Cup quarter-finals next month.
There were five changes made to the team that started at Kenilworth Road with Harry Nevin, Ellis Horan, Rio Pemberton, Aaron Bennett and Charlie Goldsmith coming in for Finlay Wallbank, Kaedyn Kamara, Noah Mawene, Kitt Nelson and Felipe Rodriguez-Gentile.
PNE made the dream start in Greater Manchester when just three minutes in, Nevin picked out Josh Seary bombing down the right flank and the wing-back’s lofted cross to the back stick was guided home by the head of Cross-Adair.
The forward almost doubled his tally on ten minutes when the Oldham ‘keeper’s clearance reached him and he tried his luck from range but the stopper was equal to it.
Five minutes later, the hosts levelled the match when their forward rose highest from a corner and found the net with a powerful header.
Jacob Slater was handed a good opportunity to restore North End’s lead in the 34th minute when the ball fell to him just inside the box, after a scramble in Oldham’s six-yard area, and his drilled effort was just wide of the mark.
The hosts got their noses in front with the final attack of the half when their attacker raced onto a through-ball and beat the onrushing Tommy Davis to it and lifted it over the stranded goalkeeper into the empty net.
It was a first half in which PNE hadn't been at their best and coach Andy Fensome looked to freshen things up with two changes in the form of Ethan Eccleston and Rodriguez-Gentile, who replaced Seary and Goldsmith respectively.
The Lilywhites almost found an equaliser just three minutes after the interval when Slater delivered a low cross from the left which Cross-Adair was unable to divert goalwards from close range.
North End made two more substitutions in the 62nd minute when Nelson and Wallbank replaced Bennett and Kian Best.
Just moments later the Latics were awarded a spot-kick which their forward dispatched, making it 3-1 to his side.
PNE almost immediately pulled one back through another Slater cross from the left which found Rodriguez-Gentile, but his effort was blocked.
Six minutes later, they took their chance when Pemberton got on the end of a corner from the left and saw his header saved only for Cross-Adair to poke home the rebound for his second of the day.
The forward almost completed his hat-trick five minutes from time when his hooked volley from the edge of the area flew inches over the bar.
North End's chances of a comeback took a hit just moments before the final whistle when a long ball was delivered forwards and the Oldham forward was able to bundle Horan over, leaving his path to goal clear and he calmly slotted past Davis.
It was a frustrating match for the U19s who are in yet to taste victory in the league this calendar year.
Speaking to PNE.Com after the defeat, Fensome made it clear just how crestfallen he was with his team’s performance.
“I’m very disappointed,” he said. “It was very flat and I’m very sad that we put on a performance like that.”
Fensome was pleased with how the players began proceedings but believes they became too complacent after going ahead and that’s what ended up costing them.
“We started off how we wanted to play, took an early lead and then slipped into a comfortable mode which isn’t going to win football matches.
“We didn’t stick to what we’re good at, we dropped to a lesser mentality and it’s our job to get the mentality right, week in week out.
“A winning mentality covers all games, not just some games and ultimately if we’re not at the top of our game, we don’t win matches.”
Fensome says he will be looking for a response from his players in the coming days, adding: It’s a new day on Monday. We’ve got a couple of games next week and the players need to learn it’s about getting up for every game and that’s what we’re trying to teach them.”
PNE line-up: Davis, Nevin, Slater, Horan, Taylor (C), Best (Wallbank 62’), Seary (Eccleston 45'), Pemberton, Cross-Adair, Bennett (Nelson 62’), Goldsmith (Rodriguez-Gentile 47’)
Subs not used: Mawene