The youth team fell foul of two goals in as many second-half minutes as Colne came from behind to win 2-1 at the Sovereign Play Stadium.
Connor Simpson broke the deadlock with just under half an hour played to give the Lilywhites a deserved half-time lead, and it looked as though the experienced North End side would go on to extend their lead with a number of chances falling their way following the interval.
However, with a handful of first team players involved, all of whom had been replaced by academy players for the final 20 minutes, the hosts profited from the Lilywhites’ period of readjustment with five subsitutes made at once, as Jack Lynch and Joe Gaughan netted in quick succession to turn the game on its head.
Colne showed plenty of energy in the opening moments as the lively Alex Curran burst into the box and saw his shot whistle over the bar, soon after stinging the palms of North End ‘keeper James Cottam with a well-struck effort from distance.
At the other end, Mike Howard almost capitalised on a short clearance from the ‘keeper when he collected the ball inside Colne’s half and cut onto his left foot, sending a low strike just wide of the near post.
Ex-Lilywhites scholar Leon Creech picked out Gaughan in the centre for a golden chance, the striker converting the right-wing delivery low against the post.
PNE remained dominant, though, and soon had Colne penned inside their own half. Josh Pollard and Tyrhys Dolan were among those to try their luck from distance but both missed the target.
The breakthrough came after 29 minutes, 15-year-old winger Ethan Walker playing a huge part. The Preston-born attacker raced at his marker down the left and skipped past his challenge, taking it inside to lay it off for Simpson, who finished coolly with a first-time effort.
Walker looked to have the beating of his man down that flank and almost created another opening in the next attack, but for some last-ditch defending.
Curran again threatened to trouble Cottam late in the half, rifling a shot wide of his right-hand post and another just over.
Howard curled a shot high and wide of goal before the break with the visitors starting strongly in the second-half, the ball falling at Walker’s feet within five minutes of the restart, but his shot from just outside the box cleared the bar.
Howard and Simpson linked up to great effect a couple of times, the former the provider on two occasions as he chipped a ball into box for the striker to head wide of the near post, and he was thwarted by a goal-saving tackle when bearing down on goal for another chance.
Substitute Brian McManus connected well with a long-range strike minutes into his time on the pitch, goalkeeper Hakan Burton holding onto his effort from 30 yards.
North End then made five changes on 71 minutes and that was perhaps the turning point for Colne to reverse the scoreline in a matter of minutes.
With 73 minutes played, Colne equalised as substitute Jack Lynch ran onto the ball on the edge of the box with perfect timing, lashing into the bottom right corner.
And in the next attack, the hosts were ahead. The play had come down the left and was worked to Gaughan, who swept a low finish across into the bottom right corner to give his side the lead.
Louis Potts was another North End substitute who looked a real menace after his arrival, the forward having a header saved in the final ten minutes as PNE kept up the pressure in search of an equaliser.
The Lilywhites were unable to turn things around, however, but Academy manager Nick Harrison said it was important for his young players to face up to the test of facing a senior side.
“I thought it was a good game for all players concerned,” he told PNE.com. “Obviously, we had a number of professionals within the group who need minutes and they all got around 70 minutes which was the plan.
“We got what we wanted out of the game in terms of testing our younger players because we don’t come up against that type of football against men where it’s quicker and more competitive, so that’s what we wanted them to experience.
“We got that but we’re disappointed that when we’re 1-0 up, the players couldn’t see that out and go onto win the game, but it should be something that they learn from.”
Harrison felt that the number of substitutions played some part in Colne’s two quickly scored goals, although he added that the young players must improve upon the errors committed in the game.
“The number of changes we made on 70 minutes has a big impact, but I don’t think the players who went on organised themselves quickly enough for the goals, but that’s a good lesson for them.
“[In senior football] you play to win and we play throughout the season where it’s academy football and we talk about results not being important, but at first team level they are. That’s the big thing that we wanted the players to get out of it and I think the result has shown that.
“We were winning the game 1-0 with 20 minutes to go and the players haven’t done enough in that 20 minutes, regardless of their experience and age, to see the game out and that’s the challenge we’ve put down for them when they face that again.”
PNE line-up: Cottam (Lenton, 46); Vermijl (Earl, 71) Boyle, (Ngongo, 71), Lyons, O’Connor, (Armer, 71); Pollard (Potts, 81), Pringle (McManus, 65); Howard (Simmons, 71), Dolan, Walker (Jolly, 78); Simpson, (Brannigan, 71). Subs not used: McFayden, Nolan, Williams.