PNE U18 slipped to their third straight defeat in all competitions with a 1-0 loss to Shrewsbury Town in the North West Youth Alliance league.
A solitary goal just before half-time from Fasiu Sangare was enough to give the visitors all three points in a cagey affair at UCLan Sports Arena.
Academy manager Nick Harrison made three defensive changes to the side that lost to Rotherham United in the Youth Alliance Cup a week prior.
Ben Dooley and Joe Blanchard replaced Harry Huddart and Lewis Coulton at right back and left back respectively, while Tyler Williams came in for Lewis Earl at centre back.
PNE edged the first 20 minutes of the game but neither team had a clear-cut chance at goal.
Aaron Bennett provided the home side with their first real opportunity, powering a shot from 20 yards out just past the top right corner of the Shrewsbury goal.
Minutes later, Williams came within inches of giving the young Lilywhites the lead when his low shot was cleared off the line by Shrewsbury right back Zac Hartley.
At the other end, Shrewsbury had a free-kick wide on the left, but the delivery only found the hands of Jimmy Corcoran in the PNE net.
Corcoran was busy again seven minutes before half-time as he made an important save, denying Sangare whose shot from the edge of the box had taken a deflection on the way through to the ‘keeper.
The Shrewsbury forward continued to be a handful, firing a shot over the bar shortly after.
It was then third time lucky for Sangare when he burst towards goal and placed the ball low to Corcoran’s left to give the visitors the lead in the 44th minute.
PNE started the second half brightly with both Bennett and Tyrhys Dolan having shots deflected wide.
Chances for the visitors were limited as they protected their lead, but a rare foray down the left wing by Nigel Aris kept the PNE defenders on their toes, with Williams intercepting his low cross well.
Bennett continued to be busy at the other end, smartly cutting outside Hartley but sending his left-footed strike wide of the post.
The hosts came very close to levelling the game in the 81st minute after some great work from Brian McManus. The midfielder made a well-timed tackle before his floating ball into the box struck the top of the crossbar, but no one in white was able to turn home the rebound.
Substitute Joe Rodwell-Grant had a big chance in the last minute of normal time as he weaved his way in and out of defenders in the box, but the striker’s low shot was met well by Shrewsbury goalkeeper Luke Burton.
There was still time for some stoppage time drama as another substitute, this time Huddart, sent a ball into the box, causing all sorts of confusion amongst the opposition’s defence. As Dooley attempted to put it back in it was blocked, with big cries of handball from the home side, but the claims were waved away by the referee.
The final whistle brought the third straight defeat, following on from the losses to Rotherham in the cup and before that Fleetwood in the league.
Manager Harrison was frustrated to come away with nothing despite having the lion’s share of the game.
He said: “It’s one of those games again that we dominated. You look at the stats and we’ve created six clear cut chances to their none – even their goal wasn’t a clear-cut chance.
“We created good chances but didn’t have that cutting edge and maybe that desire and endeavour to put the ball in the back of the net.”
Despite his frustration, he recognised the importance of the lesson which his players will have taken from the game.
“Six clear cut chances to zero should mean you win the game, but I think it’s a good lesson, certainly for our lads at the back, that if you don’t deal with the striker like we failed to do just before half-time, then you concede and that’s why you end up losing games,” he said.
“At the same time we had enough chances to go and win the game comfortably. We had to get hold of the game and make something happen.”
Harrison also spoke of the learning curve that the recent run of form will provide for the young Lilywhites.
“If they do have a long career in the game they’re going to go through these periods. We’ve just said to them that they’ve got to find a way to come out of this.
“We’ll be there to support them and we’re encouraging them to play and to battle to be positive. I’m sure the results will knock their confidence a bit but that is part and parcel of learning the game of football. It’s what they do next now that’s important.”
PNE line-up: Corcoran; Dooley, Williams, McFayden, Blanchard; Nolan, McManus; Dolan, Holland-Wilkinson (Rodwell-Grant, 83), Bennett (Seary, 70); Potts (Huddart, 87). Subs not used: Nicholson, Lombard.