Two schoolboys were among North End’s five goalscorers as the youth team began their pre-season campaign by beating Morecambe 5-1.
With Aaron Bennett’s deflected strike having given the young Lilywhites a half-time advantage, fellow U16 Levi Lewis doubled the lead just after the hour, sparking a late flurry of goals – Louis Potts, Joe Nolan and Tyrhys Dolan extending PNE’s winning margin amid Jack Greenwood’s reply.
Academy manager Nick Harrison set out with two different starting line-ups for each half of the Shrimps’ visit. All 16 scholars – nine second years and seven first years – got 45 minutes each, as did four schoolboys and two trialists.
Jimmy Corcoran was kept busy early on by an individual duel against forward Freddie Price, who twice met left-wing crosses at the near post in the opening stages, but after he’d blazed over initially, PNE’s ‘keeper saved comfortably from the second attempt.
It was North End that went ahead in the 14th minute, as Joe Rodwell-Grant spotted Bennett bursting into space down the right channel. The forward cushioned a pass into the path of Bennett, who waited on the edge of the area to strike it on the bounce, doing so sweetly as a slight deflection assisted in beating the Shrimps ‘keeper.
Wales youth international Bennett showed neat skill on the left minutes later but could not pull back to a team-mate, that after Corcoran had again saved comfortably, this time from outside the box.
Ethan Walker’s free-kick just before the half hour mark was a vicious one, punched away vitally by the goalkeeper, albeit right at Joe Blanchard, who might have converted but for the awkward height and trajectory of the bouncing ball.
Rodwell-Grant did find the net two minutes afterwards, sliding Bennett’s wonderful through ball beyond the goalkeeper, but the offside flag was raised.
Another marginal offside decision saw Bennett himself called back following some inspired vision from Walker, while Price again shot straight at Corcoran before the interval.
A full complement of North End half-time changes meant a quieter start to second half proceedings, the first event of note seeing Tyrhys Dolan clip a cross to the back post for Tyler Williams, who headed across goal and just wide.
A truly exquisite finish from Levi Lewis doubled PNE’s lead on 63 minutes . The pass from substitute goalkeeper Oliver Lombard was fantastic, too, finding Lewis in the opposition area as he chipped the onrushing goalkeeper – perfectly reading the flight of the ball with a supremely executed volley.
After a well-contested opening hour or so, North End closed the game with some excellent attacking play and eight minutes after the second, Louis Potts rounded the goalkeeper from Lewis Leigh’s ball over the defence to make it three.
Joe Nolan finished beautifully with ten minutes still to go when a low cross fell at his feet on the edge of the area, where he placed high into the right corner of goal.
Lucus Kirnon defended well against Greenwood minutes afterwards, halting a mazy run from the Morecambe man, but that couldn’t prevent a clean sheet, as Greenwood popped up again in the 84th minute to head home from a corner.
But second half skipper Dolan restored the four-goal margin with a minute to go, getting so much power behind his 20-yard daisy cutter that the opposition ‘keeper could not keep it out, that ensuring a five-star display in the maiden pre-season outing.
PNE first half line-up: Corcoran; Nicholson, Earl (captain), Blanchard, Coulton; Dooley, McManus; trialist; Bennett; Walker; Rodwell-Grant.
PNE second half line-up: Lombard; Leigh, Williams, Kirnon, trialist; Nolan, Huddart; Holland-Wilkinson, Dolan (captain), Lewis; Potts.