The youth team’s winning start to the season was brought to an end on Saturday as they were forced to settle for a 1-1 draw away to Wrexham.
The young Lilywhites had a number of chances to score throughout, particularly in the second half, but went behind to a deflected cross just before the hour, with Jack Baxter restoring parity from the penalty spot less than 15 minutes later.
It was a quiet start to the game, the hosts having the first chance after seven minutes as Niall Freeman’s headed a free-kick into Callum Roberts’ grasp. At the other end, Tom Stead had a similar chance but couldn’t direct his effort towards goal.
PNE continued to see most of the ball but Matty Sargent went closest for the home side in these tight early moments, drilling a long range shot over the bar.
North End’s first clear opportunity came after half an hour when Alex Wood crossed from the right for Mike Howard, but goalkeeper Owen Kirkham made a great diving save to hold onto his header.
Roberts was forced to make an even more impressive save ten minutes later as he tipped Freeman’s powerful free-kick over the bar, ensuring the scores remained unchanged at the break.
PNE came out much stronger in the second half and cut open the Wrexham backline several times early on, Howard having a shot blocked from only a few yards out before Ki Smart saw his rebound brush just past the top right corner from the edge of the area.
Wood almost broke the deadlock in fantastic style five minutes after the interval, skipping past several defenders on his way into the area but Kirkham held onto his low poke towards goal.
Adam O’Reilly was next to test Kirkham after more good work from Wood down the right side, shaping himself well to shoot on the half volley, but the ‘keeper again held on.
Kirkham looked beaten shortly after as Oscar O’Neil tried his luck after some brilliant trickery to take two players out of the game on the right, but he curled his effort past the goalkeeper and just over from a tight angle.
Wrexham took the lead against the run of play after 59 minutes. A dangerous low cross in from the right caused trouble at the back as it found the bottom left corner, seemingly via a deflection.
But after a quiet following ten minutes or so, the Lilywhites grabbed the equaliser in the 73rd minute.
Harry Garstang had gone through on goal down the left, his shot palmed into the path of Howard whose effort was also saved – albeit by an outfield player, who conceded a penalty and a red card for his trouble. Baxter rifled the spot kick into the bottom right corner for his second of the season.
It was all PNE thereafter, Howard twice heading just wide of the far post from Wood’s crosses and then flashing a volley just over following great chest control in the area.
Kirkham scrambled a loose ball away from an onrushing O’Reilly, while Jerome Jolly also had a shot parried in stoppage time as Baxter placed the rebound just wide on the half volley.
North End couldn’t get the winning goal but manager Nick Harrison remained pleased with his side’s performance.
“I thought we performed very well,” Harrison told PNE.com. “We passed it well and created lots of chances but probably just didn’t show enough composure in front of goal.
“It’s disappointing to concede the goal in the way we did because they didn’t have many chances at all, and we probably just didn’t defend it as well as we could do, but in reality, we should win the game by three or four goals with the amount of chances we had.
“The game is about what you do in both boxes and today we’ve not kept a clean sheet, and the other side of it is we’ve not scored enough goals to win the game.
“That’s something we will continue to work on because we have to score more goals, especially when we’ve played so well because it can give the players the belief that when they do put it in the back of the net, that things are working.”
The U18s boss also praised the players for staying in the game after going behind and adapting to a new look 4-2-3-1 shape slightly different to that deployed in recent weeks.
“We always believed that we could get back in the game and we had already created a number of chances prior to them scoring.
“The players showed real belief that they were always going to stay in the game, but what they couldn’t quite manage to do, and what we need to do, is capitalise on the chances we creating.
“I thought they adapted to it [the formation] very well in the way that they passed the ball and got out at times. We got better as the game went on with that and started to get the full-backs further up the pitch.
“Youth football is all about development and players have to learn different formations because you never know what they’re going to be asked to play at first team level.”
PNE line-up: Roberts; Wood, Fensome, Stead, Jolly; Smart, Baxter; O’Neil, O’Reilly (Mason, 85), Howard; Garstang. Subs not used: Simmons, Cottam, Ngongo, Pollard.