Jerome Jolly and Tyrhys Dolan struck for a second consecutive game, while Ethan Walker and Darren Brannigan were also on target, as the youth team beat Accrington Stanley 4-0 to reach the Lancashire FA Professional Youth Cup final.
Jolly’s 17th-minute free-kick sent the young Lilywhites on their way, with Walker, Dolan and Brannigan all finding the net inside a potent ten-minute period after the break.
North End had beaten Stanley just three days previously in league action and that there was just one change to that side – Jimmy Corcoran in for James Cottam in goal – was apparent from the early stages of this contest.
The home side were dominant throughout although early defending was required from Jack Baxter to block Jack Doherty’s sight of goal, Dolan seeing his speculative strike clear the bar minutes later.
Dolan might have given PNE the lead, despite knowing little about the chance, when Walker’s deflected cross hit him six yards out, ‘keeper Liam Sherwood producing a fine reaction save to stop both that and Louis Potts effort sliding in moments later.
The deadlock was broken after 17 minutes. Jolly caught everyone by surprise with his stunning effort, from the right-hand angle of the area, bending into the nearside top corner when he had looked set to cross.
Potts saw an effort saved from a corner before Jolly whipped another effort from range marginally wide, while Harry Perritt’s piledriver was deflected askew at the other end.
The visitors could have equalised ten minutes before half-time with a free header at the back post finding the side netting and they would be left to rue that miss as North End started the second half in prolific mood.
They doubled their lead in the 56th minute, Walker notching his tenth of goal of an impressive campaign. He turned away from a defender 25 yards out and curled into the bottom left corner, his left-footed effort helped in by the inside of the post.
📸 | @Ethanwalker_7 scored his tenth goal of the season today for #PNEU18! 🔝— PNE Academy (@pnefcacademy) January 8, 2019
The youngster also has nine assists to his name this term; keep up the fantastic work, Ethan! 👏#pnefc pic.twitter.com/hUyAVjIOFs
There was time for another before the hour, Dolan getting in on the act on 59 minutes. After missing a one-on-one, Potts kept his composure in the box to stand a cross up to the back post, where Dolan headed in unopposed.
A couple of changes arrived for PNE in the shape of Brian McManus and Brannigan did not disrupt North End’s momentum, the latter making an immediate impact from the bench.
Dolan’s pass behind the defence allowed U16 defender Lewis Coulton to send a brilliant cross to the back post, where Brannigan headed in for a 65th-minute fourth.
The substitute almost doubled his tally ten minutes later when he combined with fellow reinforcement, Josh Pollard, on the break, receiving a return ball inside the box with Sherwood pushing his fierce shot away.
Pollard was denied in similar fashion late on with Accrington almost one pulling back on the counter, good work down the left by Warren Sung almost rewarded when Perritt met it in the middle, only to hook against the woodwork.
Jolly curled another free-kick just wide and Sherwood was called into action to thwart Pollard once more in stoppage time, but it was no matter, North End’s progress to the final having looked secure for some time.
Academy manager Nick Harrison said every player was worthy of credit for their part in the win.
“I’m delighted first and foremost with the performance and it’s great that we got the positive result as well,” Nick told the club website.
“The first half went like lots of our games; we dominated possession and created a number of chances, but you can’t always score every time you attack. We spoke to the players about that at half-time and encouraged them to keep going and spoke about different ways we could hurt them.
“It was pleasing in the second half that we got in behind them a bit more and we created many more chances too. We end up winning the game 4-0 but it could’ve been a lot more really.
“The amount of chances that we created is credit to the players because they found ways to break down the opposition, which is what you have to do in possession. All credit to the players, I thought it was a fantastic performance.
“I thought each and every one of them were fantastic today; they played on the front foot, passed the ball well and did everything that we asked of them.”
Wigan Athletic won their semi-final against Rochdale on the same day, meaning it is the Latics who North End will face for a repeat of last season’s final, Harrison’s side narrowly losing out on that occasion and the Academy manager expects another tough test this time around.
“We played them last year in the same cup final and came runners up, so we want to do one better this time. It’s good for our lads to play against the likes of Wigan who are doing really well; they won the league last year and they have good players.
“The lads who experienced that last year I’m sure will benefit from that in some way, but we will just prepare for it like we do every other game and help the players to do their best and perform well.
“It’s the right type of challenge for our players and hopefully we can go one better this time and win the cup.”
The final will be played at Lancashire FA’s County Ground, Leyland, on Saturday 20 April with an 11am kick-off.
PNE line-up: Corcoran; Simmons, Earl, McFayden, Coulton; Nolan (McManus, 61), Baxter; Jolly, Dolan, Walker (Pollard, 71); Potts (Brannigan, 63). Subs not used: Williams, Cottam.