A youthful Preston North End U18 side were beaten 5-0 at home by Rochdale on Saturday morning.
The deadlock wasn’t broken until the midpoint of the first-half as David Owusu’s cross was deflected in, but both he and Joe Piggott added two further goals for the visitors before the break.
Owusu added another 20 minutes into the second period before an own goal completed the visitors’ scoring for the afternoon.
Nick Harrison’s men started with just two first-year and three second-year scholars ahead of Monday’s FA Youth Cup quarter-final against Stoke City at Deepdale, with the remaining six starting places and substitutes made up of U16 players and younger.
Despite that, the young Lilywhites made an encouraging start to the match. Goalkeeper James Cottam was forced to make some decent saves in the first five minutes to deny Owusu and Declan Evans, but the hosts played the ball around well at the other end of the field.
That passing style almost saw Ethan Walker release Tom Barry into space in the area on nine minutes, but his pass was just slightly over hit.
Barry then combined fantastically with Akwasi Kwateng and Hafizul Rahman as he dribbled infield from the right, with his effort low towards the far corner turned behind for a corner by visiting goalkeeper Bradley Wade.
However, Rochdale then took the lead in the 23rd minute. Owusu found space on the right flank and his low, whipped cross was deflected in at the near post.
A second goal followed five minutes later, with Owusu again venturing into the space on the right wing, this time shooting beyond Cottam into the far bottom corner.
North End might have pulled one back just after the half hour but Kwateng’s series of fantastic low crosses were cleared, while Tom Stead’s long-range effort narrowly cleared the crossbar.
But Rochdale made it three in first-half stoppage-time, as Piggott found the target with a strike from distance.
The second period started in the same vein as the first as the two sides spent the first 20 minutes after the interval again battling for possession in midfield.
During that time, Jordan Prescott curled a shot wide for Rochdale before North End had a brief spell in which they had good chances to reduce the deficit.
Jack Baxter and Akwasi Kwateng broke into the area on separate occasions around the hour mark, but while both hit the target, ‘keeper Wade stood tall to save those efforts.
Rochdale raced forward again minutes later, with Owusu grabbing his second goal of the game in the 65th minute. Dashing down the right wing, his shot sneaked inside the near post from just outside the angle of the six-yard box.
Baxter came close again with a header towards goal from Walker’s free-kick in the 78th minute, but Rochdale then attacked the other end and found their fifth goal through a second own goal.
The score was unchanged in the final part of the game as North End, finishing the game with just two scholars on the field, fell to a 5-0 loss.
Academy manager Nick Harrison hoped the match could prove to be a learning curve for his younger players.
“It was a really tough game,” Harrison admitted. “Obviously we had a lot of young players on the pitch today for obvious reasons as we're going into the game against Stoke on Monday.
“We wanted to test the younger players, give them the experience of U18 football and what real football is all about.
“I thought we did start well and competed, and we had a couple of chances actually. But obviously they put us under a lot of pressure.”
Harrison also said that the players must try to use the experience to aid their development.
“That's what youth football is all about,” he continued. “We've got to use situations to our advantage to try to help the younger players develop as quickly as possible because players have to develop to be ready for first team football.
“I thought it was unfortunate because it was an own goal. I think that just unsettled us a little bit and we then made a couple of errors which led to their second goal as well. Hopefully it's going to be a learning curve for the youth players.
“We want them to experience it early. It's disappointing to get beaten with that scoreline but we did it because these are the players that are going to be coming into the squad next year, to give them a taste for it and to see if it can help them and develop them more quickly.”
PNE line-up: Cottam; Tait (Simmons, 43), Stead (Jolly, 74), Ngongo, Campbell; Baxter, Pollard; Rahman (Potts, 84), Barry (Brannigan, 74), Walker; Kwateng. Subs not used: Horton.