PNE Academy suffered a 4-1 defeat in the quarter-final of the Lancashire Cup to Wigan Athletic after a ruthless second half performance by the hosts.
Firstly, Alex Cvertkoic beat Sean Whelan down the right wing and delivered a testing cross in-between the PNE defence and Ross Dalton, but there was no Latics player there to finish it off.
Shortly after, Luke Pritchard missed a glorious chance to put Nick Harrison’s men 1-0 to the good.
Eddie Dsane threaded a ball down the left channel behind the defence which Pritchard latched onto and was bearing down one-on-one with the goalkeeper, but as he closed in he skewed his left-footed shot wide of the target.
Almost immediately after, the highly influential Cvertkovic found more space, but this time, on the right side of the penalty box, he didn’t get hold of the shot as he’d hoped and it was directly at Dalton who saved comfortably.
Wigan endured a prolonged spell of pressure in the PNE half but again they couldn’t make it tell, hitting the woodwork twice in a matter of seconds.
Firstly, Adrian Purzycki curled an effort from the left edge of the box with his right foot that struck the post, only for Cvertkovic to turn the ball back into the mix and Sam Cosgrove rattled the frame again from close range.
Dsane then pulled off an impressive effort, finding himself in space 25 yards out and spotting the Wigan keeper off his line.
His lob was destined for goal but a hurried Kelland Absalom recovered to tip over the crossbar.
As Preston started to come back into the contest they made their early resilience tell taking the lead through Sam Livesey.
Dsane was fouled on the half-way line but the referee let the move flow, which allowed Livesey to gain an advantage on the right wing.
He cut inside into the box and struck a fierce shot across the goalkeeper and the ball nestled into the bottom left corner to give North End the lead.
The Academy really grew into the match and were in the ascendancy, getting plenty of joy in the full back areas through Pritchard and Livesey.
It was at this time however, when PNE did concede as Wigan pegged them back.
Latics frontman Cosgrove stepped up from a free kick and bent his effort round the wall and into the bottom right corner for 1-1.
What was quite a frantic start from the young Lilywhites had turned into an impressive first half performance from Nick Harrison’s side.
The second half however couldn’t have got off to a worse start for Preston.
After Adam Anson won the ball back for Wigan in central midfield, he set up Cvertkovic who in-turn unleashed a venomous shot from 20 yards.
Ross Dalton struggled to deal with the strike and uncharacteristically mishandled the ball allowing Anson to tap home to give Wigan the lead.
It wasn’t long before the Latics made it 3-1 with Cosgrove grabbing his second of the match.
As the ball fell to Arnold Baxendale on the right wing, he delivered an inch-perfect curling cross, which Cosgrove duly obliged to and rose highest to head into the top right hand corner.
PNE really struggled to rediscover their first half performance and Wigan had marked their authority on the game.
The Lilywhites were particularly struggling with Wigan’s physicality all over the pitch as they had some very commanding players throughout the core of their team.
Preston had a couple of half chances left in them as Dsane turned provider for Pritchard with a cut back from the right by-line, but the midfielder sent his shot over the bar from just inside the box.
Towards the end of the half, Dsane skilfully jinxed past several Wigan defenders but his shot was tame and dribbled straight at Absalom.
Wigan then rubbed salt into Preston wounds as they made it 4-1 in injury time.
Purzycki turned Dsane and shot from outside the box, and his effort somehow slipped through Dalton’s palms, through his legs and into the back of the net, summing up a disappointing afternoon for the Preston goalkeeper who has been so good all season.
Manager Nick Harrison spoke after the match about how he was impressed with his side’s character in the first half.
He said: “We had our ups and downs during the game.
“We struggled from the start and I thought we could’ve maybe conceded a couple of goals, but we showed a bit of character and managed to get the goal and then we started to compete and we started to pass the ball better.”
The manner in which three of the four goals were conceded left Harrison slightly disappointed, two goals stemming from extremely rare goalkeeping errors by Ross Dalton who has been one of the stand out performers in the team.
And Harrison stood by the PNE shotstopper, highlighting his qualities.
He added: “He’s been outstanding for us all season and there’s been times when he’s kept us in games, so I can’t be too harsh on him.”
Harrison put the defeat down to the side not being able to match the physicality of what was an extremely big and strong Wigan team.
He continued: “The problem today was the actual physical side that we didn’t stand up to.
“Wigan were a lot more physical than us and I thought at times, mentally we didn’t compete the way we should’ve done.”
PNE XI: Ross Dalton, Clive Smith, Ellis Hancox, Harry Hagon, Sean Whelan, Sam Livesey, Bradley Roscoe, Adam Joseph Robinson, James Boyd, Luke Pritchard, Eddie Dsane.