A stunning strike apiece from Adam O’Reilly and Jack Baxter could not inspire the youth team to victory in their Lancashire FA Professional Youth Cup final against Wigan Athletic, who lifted the trophy with a 5-2 victory at the County Ground at Leyland.
Two contentiously awarded penalties, both dispatched by Charlie Jolley, saw Latics lead before O’Reilly struck from range to reduce the deficit at the break.
Baxter then cancelled out Jensen Weir’s header after the interval with a goal from inside his own half, both efforts within six minutes of the second half restart, but it was a brace from Victor Maffeo inside the final quarter of an hour which ultimately gave Wigan the daylight to see out the win.
North End made six changes from their midweek trip to Morecambe with Jimmy Corcoran, Jack Armer, Jack Baxter, Adam O’Reilly, Ethan Walker and Tyrhys Dolan resuming their roles in the starting line-up.
The heavy rotation perhaps showed with Wigan having a handful of early chances as Mitchell Culshaw lashed a Jolley cross wide and Joe Gelhardt headed straight at Corcoran.
North End looked to be growing back into the contest, as Baxter’s wonderful outside of the foot pass played in Walker whose cross was cleared in the box, when Wigan took a 21st-minute lead.
Jolley won a penalty when he was brought down under Armer's challenge, although the foul could’ve gone either way in terms of free-kick or penalty, the challenge right on the edge of the box, before Latics’ No.9 sent his spot kick straight down the middle.
Louis Potts might have equalised before the second penalty was awarded, robbing Eneka Obi of possession just outside the box but shooting tamely for Bobby Jones to gather, but if the first spot kick decision was debatable, the second which against the Lilywhites was certainly harsh.
That came in the 28th minute when Jolley again raced down the left of the box, more running at Precieux Ngongo rather than the defender seeming to make any foul against the Wigan man, the referee nevertheless pointing to the spot, when Latics’ frontman this time shot low into the right corner.
However North End were able to halve the deficit not long afterwards courtesy of a wonderful long range O’Reilly strike. Baxter’s ball forwards was headed down and the second ball claimed by the Irishman, who took a touch and curled delightfully into the top right corner.
Latics should’ve extended their advantage again before the break from a pair of Culshaw crosses, Mackenzie O’Neil dragging wide before Gelhardt twice headed against the bar in the space of three seconds, just before Dolan had misdirected a header on the penalty spot from Walker’s cross.
The Lilywhites were much improved in the second half, but not before Jensen Weir restored Wigan’s two-goal margin. It came from a free-kick routine, Scott Smith’s diagonal ball headed across by Obi for the midfielder to direct a header into the right-hand corner of Corcoran’s goal.
However, yellow-clad North End cancelled that out immediately courtesy of Baxter’s improvisation from a free-kick. The second year scholar scored his tenth goal of the season from all of 60 yards, striking the ball from just outside the centre circle in his own half.
Nick Harrison’s team took momentum from that and before the hour might’ve equalised when Jerome Jolly’s cross found Louis Potts in the centre but he couldn’t keep his header down.
A couple of poor challenges on Walker went unpunished with North End countering, one from Obi in particular looking like a possible red – yellow instead the punishment.
But the game’s late opportunities fell Wigan’s way, with Gelhardt looking certain to have made it four on seven minutes when he turned into space in the box but placed over the bar.
However Latics did go two goals in front once again on 78 minutes, courtesy of a fine strike from Maffeo. The right back took down Smith’s curled pass down the right flank, drifted infield and fired into the bottom corner left-footed from 20 yards.
The right back was on the scoresheet again five minutes from time, curling again from outside the box and into the bottom corner, this time from a free-kick, and despite some decent nice work from O’Reilly and substitute Joe Rodwell-Grant looking to muster something for North End late on, there was too much work to be done, as Wigan lifted the trophy following a 5-2 win.
PNE line-up: Corcoran; Ngongo, Earl, Armer, Coulton; O’Reilly, Baxter; Walker (Pollard, 77), Dolan (Nolan, 85), Jolly (Rodwell-Grant, 74), Potts. Subs not used: Williams, Lenton.