The youth team made it three games unbeaten in pre-season with a 2-2 draw away to Rochdale.
A couple of the more youthful members of the first team squad – Charlie Lyons, Michael Howard and Connor Simpson – were handed an hours’ game time each, the latter two scoring an equalising goal apiece for the Lilywhites.
Having played two different teams in each half in both of their first two pre-season friendlies – wins over Morecambe and Grimsby Town – youth team boss Nick Harrison gave additional minutes to a couple of players here, three playing for the full 90 minutes.
In what was a lively contest throughout, the opening stages of the first half proved the most action packed, both sides having volleys clear the crossbar early on with Connor Simpson first to hit the target, taking down a long ball to go one on one but ‘keeper Morgan Piper narrowed the angle well.
With just ten minutes on the clock Dale went close again with the right winger flashing a shot across goal and just wide of Jimmy Corcoran’s right-hand post.
Five minutes later, North End also narrowly missed the target, Tyrhys Dolan playing through Howard, whose sweetly struck left-footed volley flashed just over the bar.
The game then looked to have been cooling down before Dale struck a 20th-minute opener.
Florian Yonsian latched onto a through ball and found himself with only Corcoran to beat with some distance between him and the goal, and although the Lilywhites’ ‘keeper was quick off his line to narrow the angle, the Dale forward finished cleverly into the bottom right corner.
Few chances passed before North End equalised after 35 minutes. Jolly did well in midfield to win his duel and put Ethan Walker into a crossing position on the right, his delivery perfect for Howard at the back post, who headed home emphatically.
North End were not level for long, however, Corcoran making an excellent save to prolong the 1-1 scoreline just before Lewis Bradley struck four minutes before the break.
After Precieux Ngongo had superbly diverted a right-wing cross away from goal, Dale worked the ball back to Lewis Bradley just inside the box, who curled into the far right corner.
Dale ended the first half strongly but it was the Lilywhites who took the initiative in the second.
Within five minutes of the restart, Simpson had regained possession down the left and sent Howard into a crossing position, Walker shooting against the post from his delivery on the far side.
That was soon forgotten, though, the Lilywhites going drawing level a minute later in the 51st. Howard played a magnificent free-kick into the box for Simpson, who used the pace on his cross to guide a header into the bottom right corner.
Simpson could have scored again moments later after Howard had controlled Lewis Simmons’ long pass, rounded Piper and set up the forward, but the Dale ‘keeper got back in position to save, that just before Lyons’ header was cleared off the line on the hour.
Substitute Louis Potts looking particularly lively from a wide right role in the final half hour, whipping in a wonderful right-wing cross for fellow reinforcement Darren Brannigan soon after they had been introduced on the hour, the forward’s shot proving too tame to trouble Piper.
Potts went for goal himself moments later as he beat his man down the right and drew a fine diving save from Piper, while Lenton held onto Dale efforts from outside the area in quick succession.
Either side could have nicked it late on, one of Dale’s defenders heading against the bar while Simmons’ mishit shot just evaded Brannigan’s outstretched leg metres from goal.
Lenton made another super stop in the final minute of normal time before Brannigan went close with a diving header, but the teams could not be separated.
Nick Harrison was pleased for the opportunity to provide his players with more minutes at this still early stage of pre-season.
“It’s the third game in so we the players had a mixture of minutes,” he told PNE.com. “Some had 45, some 60 and a couple 90 which is brilliant and we’ll continue to increase the players’ minutes and continue assessing them to see who’s ahead of who.
“We’ve told the players that yes, it is all about fitness but you’ve got to make an impact in the game to break into the starting 11 come the first Saturday in August.
“Rochdale are always competitive and they did cause us problems. We took the game on because we knew it was going to be more of a challenge than the first two games and our games in the next couple of weeks are going to be difficult as well.
“Ultimately, that’s what we want to do – to test the players. What I thought we should’ve done better, especially in the first half, was we should’ve competed more, but I thought we did that well in the second half.”
Harrison also wanted to see more ruthless finishing from his side.
“I think we should have won it and the players have to learn from that because it’s all about winning games, that’s what you have to do at first team level.
“The players who had the chances have to take more responsibility and show more composure and desire to put the ball in the back of the net.
“We’re pleased that we created the chances but the players who are getting on the end of those have got to learn to score the goals.”
PNE line-up: Corcoran (Lenton, 46); Simmons, Ngongo, (Williams, 46), Lyons, (McFayden, 61), Armer; Walker, Dolan (Earl, 61), Jolly, (McManus, 46), Pollard, (Nolan, 46), Howard, (Potts, 61); Simpson, (Brannigan, 61).