The youth team ended their North West Youth Alliance campaign in style with a 5-2 turnaround victory away to Shrewsbury Town.
Lifumpa Mwandwe scored in the 20th minute to give the hosts a half-time lead, and he would go onto score another after the break, but Ethan Walker scored a brace while Lewis Simmons, Jack Baxter and Josh Pollard all also found the net in a much-improved second-half display.
The hosts had more possession in the opening 45 minutes and could have capitalised on that three minutes in when Luke Ward’s shot was deflected wide from a corner.
Ryan Barnett’s was the creative force in the home side’s ranks, playing a fine low cross to the right-hand side of the area but Aaron Gilpin couldn’t finish.
Shrewsbury took the lead in the 20th minute when Barnett regained possession in midfield and played Mwandwe into the inside left area of the box, and he finished low into the left corner.
Jack Baxter tested goalkeeper Cameron Gregory in the 27th minute with a dipping effort from range, the Shrewsbury stopper claiming it at the second attempt.
PNE ‘keeper Callum Lenton also made his first meaningful save shortly after with a fine dive to his right to deny Gilpin.
Cameron Day fended off Tyrone Ofori well while Walker had a penalty appeal waived away in the half’s closing moments, before North End came out much stronger after the break.
The equaliser came almost immediately after the interval, in the 48th minute. Kamol Campbell raced inside after receiving a throw in advanced down the left and laid it off for Walker, who jinked past a man before slotting into the bottom right corner.
Walker’s pass to Pollard in space was intercepted, while Adam O’Reilly and Walker saw shots trickle into the ‘keeper’s grasp and wide respectively, before a frantic end to the game ensued.
Simmons kickstarted that, putting the Lilywhites ahead in the 70th minute. It was admirable persistence from the right sided player, who closed down Gregory’s clearance with a block which ended up in the back of the net.
Five minutes later, it was 3-1. Walker was brought down just outside the box, earning a free-kick for Baxter to take, and his low curling effort went in off the inside of the right-hand post.
The Lilywhites almost scored again in the next attack with Day heading wide from a corner, but it was Shrewsbury who struck next after 78 minutes. Mwandwe cut inside from the left and curled a super finish into the top right corner.
The pendulum then swung North End’s way again in the 81st minute to restore the two-goal margin. Joe Nolan timed a challenge to perfection near the centre circle and chipped a ball over the top for Walker, who sent a left-footed shot into the bottom right corner.
Pollard completed the scoring in the 84th minute with another fantastic goal. He picked the ball up deep on the left, drifted past a couple of Shrewsbury players and into the area, where he brilliantly curled into the top left corner.
Shrewsbury might have reduced the deficit late on when Mwandwe took down Rhys Davies’ cross and aimed for the bottom left corner, but was denied a hattrick by the post.
But it was a deserved victory for the young Lilywhites, as Professional Development Phase coach, Andy Fensome, hailed the players’ second-half response having gone behind.
“It was very good by the players to come back from a mistake in giving the ball away to concede,” he told PNE.com. “They showed great character in the second-half to get a foothold in the game and take their chances.
“The lads knew at half-time that we hadn’t played well and although Shrewsbury had had a lot of possession, they didn’t really threaten us.
“I think we created some half chances in the first-half but the final ball wasn’t good enough. After the break, we seemed to find that final pass and it started almost straight away in the second-half.
“We just asked the players to tidy up their passing, make better decisions on the ball and play a little bit quicker. I think they did that well, which showed in some of the goals the players scored, and there was some good quality play.”
Fensome has been pleased by the team’s end to the season, with eleven goals being scored in their last two matches, but felt that that goalscoring prowess could have been shown more often throughout the campaign.
“I think it’s nice to finish any league season with the win. The cup game in midweek [against Oldham Athletic] was a confidence booster because it was our first win for a while. Finishing the league programme with a win should only stand the players in good stead.
“We’ve scored eleven in two games and some of those have been outstanding goals, whether they’ve been individual goals or team goals.
“That’s the quality we’ve had all season, it’s just unfortunate that we’ve failed to show that at times because we’ve created lots and lots of chances, but we haven’t always been able to take those.
“Any goal that’s scored is a good one, it doesn’t matter whether it’s from one or 25 yards out. In the last two games, we’ve taken a lot of the chances that we’ve created and taken them really well.”
PNE line-up: Lenton; Ngongo, (Earl, 79), Fensome, Day, Campbell; O’Reilly, Baxter (Nolan, 79); Simmons, Dolan (Pollard, 62), Jolly, (Armer, 74); Walker. Subs not used: Cottam.