The youth team were undone by a 90th minute own goal as Blackpool won the U18 derby 3-2 at Myerscough College.
North End’s youngsters raced into a two-goal lead thanks to Ethan Walker’s strike and Jerome Jolly’s corner being parried into the net, but the hosts were back in it before the half hour with Andy Kanga and Sam Maddox on target.
And the Lilywhites conceded against the run of play right at the death as a PNE man glanced a free-kick into his own net.
North End scored almost straight from the kick-off courtesy of some individual inspiration from Walker. The winger’s mazy run inside from the left saw him turn his marker inside out and curl a precise effort into the top left corner to give the visitors the perfect start.
Lewis Earl might’ve scored just five minutes later when he prodded Jolly’s corner towards the bottom corner only for it to be turned behind for another corner.
But Jolly whipped in menacingly again from that subsequent corner, curling right into the goalmouth and ‘keeper Harvey Simson could only parry that delivery over his own line to make it a two-goal advantage after seven minutes.
The hosts played themselves back into the game, though, with Earl required to make a crucial tackle on Kanga to clear for a corner, which Maddox got his head to without troubling Jimmy Corcoran.
Nathan Shaw’s shot sailed over the crossbar minutes later but Blackpool did pull one back on 20 minutes with Kanga baring down on goal and although his initial touch past Corcoran took him wide, he managed to convert from the angle.
Shaw crossed dangerously in the next attack but Ewan Bange took the ball off Kanga’s toes and his heavy touch meant the chance was gone.
Blackpool did equalise in the 27th minute when Kanga teed up Maddox 25 yards from goal and his first-time strike found the far-left corner for a fine leveller.
Shaw then unleashed another piledriver straight at Corcoran while Jack Baxter sent Louis Potts into space at the other end but he scuffed his shot wide of the near post.
Walker and Jolly curled a free-kick apiece marginally over, while Potts met Lewis Simmons’ cross at the back post but couldn’t divert past Simson.
The visitors carried through their late first half improvement into the second half, with Tyrhys Dolan getting to the left byline with some clever play, his centre converted wide of the far post by Walker while Shaw had an attempt blocked at the other end.
The tempo slowed in the closing 45 minutes but PNE looked in greater control for large parts, Jolly glancing a header over just after the hour, while Tyrhys Dolan drew a save from substitute ‘keeper Sam Kellett moments later.
Jolly then curled for the top left corner but a header off the lined thwarted him and Potts touched Earl’s pinpoint cross goalwards but it was a routine stop for Kellett.
Darren Brannigan was brought on for the final quarter of an hour and he had a decent looking attempt blocked within minutes of his arrival, Simmons racing to the edge of the area five minutes from time but curling straight at Kellett.
The Lilywhites’ late efforts would count for nothing, though, as in the 90th minute, Shaw’s free-kick delivery was flicked into the far bottom corner by a North End head for Blackpool’s winning goal.
Academy manager Nick Harrison explained that the late goal North End conceded completely swayed the team’s post-match perspective of the game.
“I think when we reflect on the game, we can look at the fact that we had 12 attempts to their six, so from a positive point of view, that shows that the group can create chances,” he told PNE.Com.
“It also highlights that the players in the box have to be more clinical to put the ball in the back of the net, but that’s something we’ve spoken about before. The goals we conceded could’ve been avoided, either from a lack of concentration, from not blocking a shot or not pressing the ball.
“It’s a stupid free-kick that we give away towards the end of the game, which leads to the own goal. It’s U18 football, the players have got to learn from it and they’ve got to learn from it quickly.
“Without that [the late goal], we can say it’s a point and we created lots of chances and maybe should’ve won it. But because of that silly decision at the end, we’ve not got any points and instead we’re speaking about being more clinical.”
Harrison had been pleased by his side’s second half improvement but stressed that there was still plenty for the players to learn from.
“Even though we lost the game today, we still had moments in it where I thought we did well.
“I thought when we got those two goals early on, the players almost looked like they thought they’d won the game and dropped a little bit deeper – they stopped doing the things we did well in that first 15 minutes.
“So I’m pleased that when we spoke to the players about that at half-time, they went back out in the second half and played much better and looked a lot more solid.
“I felt we did dominate the game overall, but the players have to learn that if they dominate the game, they’ve got to win it and ultimately that’s what professional football is all about.”
PNE line-up: Corcoran; Simmons, Earl, Lyons, Armer; Pollard, Baxter; Jolly, Dolan (Bennett, 88), Walker; Potts (Brannigan, 75). Subs not used: Williams, Cottam, McFayden.