Goals from Ethan Walker and Tyrhys Dolan were not enough to keep the youth team in the FA Youth Cup as Blackburn Rovers progressed with a 4-2 turnaround victory at Ewood Park.
Walker’s opener was cancelled out by D’Margio Wright-Phillips’ effort at the break, but the Lilywhites regained their lead through Tyrhys Dolan before the hour mark to ensure the visitors went into the final 20 minutes in control.
A controversial red card for Ben Dooley swung the pendulum back in the hosts’ favour, though, with Jalil Saadi and Zak Gilsenan netting a header apiece within a matter of minutes late on to turn the tie on its head, before Sam Durrant made it four in stoppage time.
Academy manager Nick Harrison made three changes to his side, who last played ten days ago against Shrewsbury Town, with the weekend’s trip to Walsall having been postponed.
Stalybridge Celtic loanee Walker remains eligible to play in youth team matches and returned to the line-up alongside defenders Lewis Earl and Lewis Coulton, replacing Joe Blanchard, Aaron Bennett and Jacob Holland-Wilkinson.
North End started brightly, seeing more of the ball as Coulton drew a fifth-minute free-kick from Daniel Pike’s handball, but Walker skewed the resulting free-kick well off target.
However, the Lilywhites No.7 made no mistake moments later, handing the visitors an eighth-minute advantage.
Joe Nolan played the pass through to Walker down the right side of the area, allowing him to chop back onto his left foot and curl beautifully into the far right corner.
The hosts’ first opportunity saw Ryan Leonard fire agonisingly wide and into the side netting from close range, while Coulton provided a menacing low delivery at the opposite end with the Rovers defence managing to clear in the centre.
Midway through the half saw Leonard presented with another chance from a right-wing cutback, but Tyler Williams got across brilliantly to divert his effort behind, the resulting corner seeing Sam Burns and Wright-Phillips combine for a short corner from which Tyrhys Dolan looked to break, but Burns recovered to halt the counter.
McManus found space outside the box on a couple of occasions, firing over on the bounce after Ben Dooley’s cross was headed into his path, before Louis Potts advanced into space but opted to shoot – into the arms of Jordan Eastham – from 20 yards rather than play the Irishman through to his right.
Walker was presented with another free-kick opportunity from decent range 10 minutes from the break, as Flavien Enzo Boyomo was booked for hauling him down on the counter, with the second year scholar drilling the set piece right down Eastham’s throat.
A pair of Jared Harlock crosses threatened to breach the PNE backline, Dooley scrambling the first cutback across the face away, the second delivery finding Leonard with time to take a touch but Williams again got across in time to block and force a corner.
The hosts drew level five minutes before the break, with the PNE defence misjudging a long ball forward and Harlock flicking it across for Wright-Phillips to score from a tight angle.
There were chances for both sides in the opening stages of the second half, but like in opening 45 minutes, it was the Lilywhites that got the first goal.
And it was Dolan who struck, following in after Eastham had palmed Walker’s 20-yard low drive out in front of goal for the Lilywhites’ No.10 on the night to convert the rebound.
Then came the turning point of the game, as Dooley was shown what seemed an incredibly harsh red card with 20 minutes remaining, following an off-the-ball clash with Rovers’ Georgie Gent, and Lilywhites’ keeper Jimmy Corcoran was booked for his protests before Walker also had his name taken by the referee.
The hosts drew level with 12 minutes to go, Saadi heading home Harlock’s corner, with Lincoln McFayden on the line unable to prevent it from crossing the line.
And the home side repeated the trick just three minutes later, as another Harlock corner in from the right this time found Zak Gilsenan to head home.
The Lilywhites fought back admirably in search of an equaliser, going close as Eastham spilled a corner before McManus fired just wide from the edge of the box.
Dolan played the ball to the back post where McManus held it up superbly, before twisting and turning away from his man but dragged his shot wide.
The Irishman also headed over from a Walker cross in stoppage time, before the Lilywhites conceded a cruel fourth to condemn defeat as Durrant added a fourth on the counter in extra time.
The Lilywhites were thus eliminated and will now look ahead to hosting Oldham Athletic in league action this weekend.
Blackburn Rovers U18 line-up: Eastham, Pike, Gent (Cirino, 86), Whitehall, Boyomo, Saadi, Burns, Harlock, Leonard (Lonsdale, 73), Wright-Phillips (Gilsenan, 73), Brennan. Subs not used: Dowling, Wyatt, Weston, Durrant.
PNE U18 line-up: Corcoran; Dooley, Earl, Williams (Blanchard, 90+4), McFayden; Nolan, McManus; Walker, Dolan (Bennett, 90+1), Coulton; Potts (Holland-Wilkinson, 66). Subs not used: Nicholson, Lombard, Huddart, Rodwell-Grant.
Referee: Mr K Silcock.