Jimmy Corcoran’s two shootout saves proved in vain as the youth team lost 4-3 on penalties against Fleetwood Town in the Lancashire FA Professional Youth Cup First Round, following a goalless 90 minutes.
There was little in the way of goalmouth action in normal time, Fleetwood having the better chances in the first half, with North End growing in confidence after the break and having opportunities to win it as well.
But neither goalkeeper could be beaten and while the two custodians both pulled off further saves in the resulting shootout, it was the Fleetwood spot kick takers who showed greater accuracy from 12 yards to seal a quarter-final place in the competition.
There were as many as five changes for PNE from the resounding win against Accrington Stanley last time out, with Corcoran himself back on goalkeeping duties, replacing Ollie Lombard after going away with Republic of Ireland U18 for a tournament in Sweden.
Lincoln McFayden was also back in the fold as he took the captain’s armband, replacing Lewis Coulton, while Ben Dooley, Jacob Holland-Wilkinson and Joe Rodwell-Grant came into the XI for Aaron Bennett, Hafizul Rahman and Louis Potts.
It was the Cod Army who hit the ground running, although they spurned their chances for the most part.
They had two decent headed opportunities from corners that both culminated in efforts inching wide, and it was the same result after a neat exchange on the edge of the box took the striker into a great shooting position close to goal, where he struck wide.
Corcoran did make one excellent stop though, dashing off his line to block a shot from 15 yards, narrowing the angle superbly in the process.
Meanwhile, the Lilywhites had long range efforts through Joes Nolan and Rodwell-Grant – skied high and blocked respectively – and although Ethan Walker did go one better by hitting the target after turning into the area, his shot was no trouble for the goalkeeper.
The Lilywhites came into the game more after half-time, although there was a scare when Fleetwood headed home from a free-kick with almost an hour played, the goal ultimately ruled out by the offside flag.
North End's best chance fell to Lewis Earl, who met Walker’s ball in from a deep free-kick with a strong header that was expertly kept out by the visiting ‘keeper.
Earl had another chance when he connected with a Walker cross once again, this time from a corner, but this time he couldn’t keep his header down.
Tyrhys Dolan also tried his luck from range but his low strike could only draw a routine stop from the opposition No.1.
Penalties were needed to separate the teams and while Nolan, Dolan and Walker dispatched their spot kicks for PNE, an additional three misses from men in white – one saved and two more struck wide – meant it was the visitors who won the day.
The sides will meet again next weekend at Poolfoot Farm in the North West Youth Alliance league, with the young Lilywhites facing a two-week absence from competitive action thereafter.
PNE line-up: Corcoran; Huddart, Earl, Williams, McFayden (Lewis, 19); Nolan, Dooley; Holland-Wilkinson (Bennett, 80), Dolan, Walker; Rodwell-Grant. Subs not used: Nicholson, Lombard, Potts.