North End exited the Lancashire FA Senior Cup at the quarter-final stage on Tuesday afternoon, as Bury instead progressed with a 2-1 victory at Carrington Training Centre.
The game provided vital game time for returning pair Tom Clarke and Declan Rudd who both featured for 90 minutes, with a number of other first team players getting game time.
The Shakers scored early in both halves, first through a deflected free-kick and then from Chris Maguire’s close-range chip just after the interval, meaning Daryl Horgan’s late effort on the half volley proved only a consolation for Alex Neil’s side.
Bury, led by former Lilywhite Chris Lucketti for only the second time and also with former North End winger Chris Humphrey in the side, took the lead in the tenth minute.
Maguire played a short free-kick to Andrew Tutte, whose 20-yard effort took an unfortunate touch off Andy Boyle to take it into the bottom right corner.
Tom Clarke was one of several North End players who gained some valuable minutes, playing the entire 90 minutes for the first time since returning from injury, and the skipper showed encouraging early signs with a raking pass out to Ben Pringle, kickstarting a counter as Kevin O’Connor’s dangerous low cross flashed across goal.
The hosts might have made it two on 20 minutes, as Tutte shot over from Tsun Dai’s left-wing cutback, before Maguire and Mike Howard exchanged bookings within a matter of moments just after the midpoint of the half.
The Lilywhites’ best chance of the half came just before the break, with the lively Horgan surging towards the left flank and shifting it out to Pringle, who then laid it off for Josh Harrop to curl a low effort marginally wide of the right-hand post from just outside the box.
PNE began to dominate possession after the break as Horgan led the away side’s charge, and shot into goalkeeper Scott Moloney’s grasp eight minutes after the interval.
Soon after, in the 57th minute, Bury doubled their lead. Maguire went one on one against Declan Rudd after chasing onto a ball over the backline, and converted with a chip into the bottom left corner.
Rob Harker fired a long-range effort just wide minutes later, while Adam O’Reilly headed inches over at the other end, less than ten minutes after his introduction from the bench.
The visitors truly dominated in the final stages, Harrop and Horgan impressing in attack as the latter showed great skill to break into the box before Moloney took the ball off his toes, and the Bury stopper then saw the Irishman shoot just wide of his top right-hand corner from outside the box, following a prolonged spell of PNE possession.
John Welsh was next to try his luck, firing over from Harrop’s pull back, and that duo combined again moments later, Welsh spraying it out to Pringle on the right as he fed Harrop, whose low cross was met by O’Reilly’s first-time strike and claimed at the second attempt by Moloney.
There was some reward for the Lilywhites’ late pressure, when Horgan pulled one back in the 88th minute – and in style. Pringle’s right-wing cross was deftly headed down by O’Connor at the back post, setting it up perfectly for Horgan to finish on the bounce and into the bottom left corner from just outside the box.
There was no further joy to be had for the Lilywhites, though, despite their best efforts to grab an equaliser, as Bury held out for the win and a place in the semi-final of the oldest cup competition in football history.
Bury line-up: Moloney, Williams, Aldred, Shotton, Hatton, Tutte (Hill, 85), Humphrey, Maguire (Da Silva), Dai (Styles, 59), Ajose, Harker. Subs not used: Styles, Hill, DaSilva, Edwards-Williams, Nyaupembe
PNE line-up: Rudd, Stead, Clarke, Boyle, O’Connor, Welsh, Baxter (O’Reilly, 58), Horgan, Pringle, Harrop, Howard. Subs not used: Hudson, O’Neil, Garstang.
Referee: Mr K Evans