There were certainly fireworks at the Alexandra Stadium on bonfire night as the young Lilywhites came from behind twice to force extra-time and penalties at the Alexandra Stadium.
Despite their best efforts, it was heartbreak in the end for the Lilywhites who lost out 3-0 on penalties in a cruel blow for the youngsters. In a hard fought game against higher opposition, Nick Harrison's side certainly gave it their all, but unfortunately it wasn't to be their night.
North End twice came from behind after Liam O'Neil scored on 32 minutes to take the hosts into the break with a one goal advantage, but PNE came out the stronger side in the second half and levelled the score through Sean Whelan with just over 20 minutes to play. Both sides pressed for a winner, but to no avail and once extra-time started, the Lilywhites looked to be on top. That was until just four minutes in, Andre Brown put the home side infront, but PNE continued to battle and got their reward on the stroke of half-time in extra-time to take it to penalties.
Fatigue certainly played its part for Harrison's players when they stepped up, with Bradley Roscoe, Sean Whelan and Adam Joseph Robinson having their spot kicks saved by Liam Matthews to send Alex through to the next round to face York City.
It was an end to end game throughout and in the opening five minutes, Luke Pritchard had the first real chance of the game when he broke clear into the Crewe box from the left but his mis-kick allowed the Crewe defence to see the ball clear.
From then on it was a fairly end to end contest throughout the first half hour. Ross Dalton made a fine save quarter of an hour in as Andre Brown controlled brilliantly with his chest to bring the ball down on the edge of the box. Brown then unleashed a powerful shot on goal which forced a superb save from the young goalkeeper.
Just two minutes later it was Pritchard again with a chance, a PNE free kick 25-yards out was on target from the winger, but it was held well by Liam Matthews in the Alex goal.
The North End youngsters continued to press and it was Pritchard again causing problems for the hosts. His corner from the left was whipped in and came off Alex defender Joe Howell and hit the inside of the post before being cleared from danger.
It was the woodwork playing its part once more, but this time in favour of the Lilywhites. Chris Speed with a great run down the right, who passed to Andre Brown, but the striker saw his effort hit the outside of the post and out for a goalkick.
It was a positive opening half an hour from North End with Pritchard and Eddie Dsane causing all sorts of problems for Crewe, but just before the hour mark Crewe stepped it up.
They were denied the opener on the half hour mark when Clive Smith produced a fantastic goal–line clearance for North End to deny the hosts. Liam O’Neil cut the ball back before it was turned towards far post, but Smith literally put his body on the line to deny them.
Dalton was called into action more and more as the half continued and Crewe continued to press and they got their reward on 32 minutes. Alex captain Joe Kearns found himself in space down the right and his ball in broke to O’Neil who hit the ball hard and low into the bottom corner and Dalton had no chance.
Depsite the hosts arguably having the better of possession, PNE continued to look for an equaliser before half-time. Pritchard had another free-kick that went just wide before the winger was involved again with a ball in to Clive Smith but the ball sails just over the defenders head on 37 minutes.
Ross Dalton was again called into action just before half-time when O’Neil went looking for his second of the game but Dalton denied him at full stretch with a strong right hand.
Having gone into the break 1-0 down, North End started the second half brightly looking for the all important equaliser.
But just five minutes in it was Ross Dalton who was called into action again after a Crewe corner was taken short and the Alex midfielder had a shot of goal from the edge of the box, but Dalton produced another fine save.
Just minutes later it was another North End name in the book, with Clive Smith booked for a challenge on the half-way line. Oliver Finney took the free-kick but it was cleared well by Josh Sampson.
North End continued to press more and more as the half continued and they finally got their deserved equaliser through Irish youth international Sean Whelan. Whelan pulled the trigger - his powerful effort leaving Liam Matthews with no chance in the Alex goal.
The Lilywhites dominated the opening half hour of this second half, with Pritchard coming close on two occasions. Some great play by Eddie Dsane allowed him to slip a fine ball through to Pritchard who ended up one on one with Matthews who saved well with his feet to deny North End the lead.
Moments later on 74 minutes, it was Pritchard again one on one with Matthews, but a strong first touch meant the ball went wide of the goal.
North End continued to be the better side heading towards the final whistle. Chances through Pritchard and Dsane were again causing problems for Crewe, but good defending from the hosts continued to deny the Lilywhites the lead.
In the dying moments of the 90 minutes, Crewe were almost gifted a winner when Roscoe’s clearance headed towards his own goal, but Dalton held well in what was a quiet second half for the young ‘keeper.
The game called for extra-time when there was nothing to separate the two teams after 90 minutes.
Into the start of extra-time and a mistake lead to Dsane making a break for PNE and he was so close to putting North End ahead just seconds into extra-time but was denied by a good save from Matthews.
The Lilywhites started the extra period the way they finished the second half, continually pressing for a win, but were dealt a cruel blow when Andre Brown found space down the right and cut in to score with a composed finish to put the hosts ahead.
Tiredness began to kick in for the Lilywhites and substitute Tom Lowery almost doubled Crewe’s lead as he cut in from the left but his effort was just wide as Crewe looked for the killer goal in the tie, but it was North End who dealt a blow of their own on the stroke of half-time in the extra period. PNE captain Bradley Roscoe equalised once again for the Lilywhites, who refused to give up.
With ten minutes to play, Dalton was again called into action with a superb save to deny Brown a second goal and the young stopper certainly played his part for the Lilywhites producing some fine saves throughout the tie and kept Crewe from getting a winner and helped force the game to penalties.
It was fatigue that played its part when Roscoe, Whelan and Adam Joseph Robinson saw their spot kicks saved and lost out 3-0 on penalties. It will be a bitter pill to swallow for Harrison and his team, but there were plenty of positives to take from the game in which they dominated large parts.
Crewe Alexandra line-up: Matthews, Kearns (c), Neal, Finney (Lowery, 69), Moran, Mullarkey, O,Neil, Howell, Brown, Speed (Kirk, 75), Ainley. Subs not used: Harrison, Moran, Higham.
: Dalton, Smith, Whelan, Roscoe (c), Sampson, Hagon, Lunney (AJ Robinson, 73), Wicks (Livesey, 59), Dsane (Quigley, 100), A Robinson, Pritchard. Subs not used: Hudson, Boyd.PNE line-up
Referee: Mr M Hanley