Preston North End’s Interfit Lancashire Cup campaign ended in the semi-final, as they lost on penalties to Blackburn Rovers at the Lilywhites’ training ground.
The visitors had taken an early lead through Lewis Thompson’s deflected strike, but goals from Paul Huntington and Brad Potts put them ahead before half-time.
A controversial spot kick, awarded just 18 seconds into the second half, saw Rovers draw level through John Buckley and despite hitting the bar through Jack Baxter, PNE could not force a winner.
And Billy Barr’s men scored all five of their penalty kicks, with Jayden Stockley’s strike from 18 yards saved, meaning the holders progressed to try and defend their trophy.
It was after just four minutes when former PNE coach Barr’s U23 side went ahead, Isaac Whitehall’s through ball finding Thompson, whose shot came off Jordan Storey, giving Connor Ripley no chance in the goal.
But the Lilywhites were quickly on level terms, when just three minutes later, Tyrhys Dolan’s left wing, inswinging corner was met at the front post by Paul Huntington, who headed down and into the goal.
Blackburn captain Stefan Mols was gifted a chance to put his side ahead, but could only find the side-netting after rounding Ripley when he had intercepted a loose back pass.
Five minutes before the interval North End were inches away from being in front when Baxter exchanged a one-two with early substitute Adam O’Reilly, before beating goalkeeper Joseph Hilton with a curling left-foot shot from 25 yards, but the ball smashed against the underside of the crossbar and came down and away to safety.
The lead came less than 90 seconds later, however, as Stockley intercepted an attempt to play out from the back and he slid in Potts down the right-hand side of the area, the No.44 drilling a shot across the goal into the bottom left-hand corner.
Having got ahead at the interval, the teams were back level within seconds of the half re-starting. Ryan Ledson was adjudged to have pushed Mols, in what looked a very soft decision by referee Darren Handley, but Buckley stepped up and sent Ripley the wrong way with his effort into the bottom left corner.
North End had much the better of the chances after that. Skipper Tom Clarke hit a half-volley into the side-netting from 20 yards after a cross from Jack Armer, who had replaced the returning Andrew Hughes just after the hour mark.
And then in the closing stages Potts again was close to scoring, hitting a sweet shot from the edge of the ‘D’ after a corner from Dolan had been headed clear, but a Rovers body got in a block.
The game ended locked at 2-2 and Vale, Buckley, Mols, Whitehall and lastly Davenport all converted for the visitors, with Ledson, Potts and Baxter scoring for PNE, after their first penalty by Stockley was saved low to his right by Hilton, ultimately proving the decisive moment in the shoot out.
PNE line-up: Ripley, Clarke (c), Hughes (Armer, 66), Ledson, Huntington, Storey, Holland-Wilkinson (O’Reilly, 29), Potts, Stockley, Dolan, Baxter. Subs not used: Hudson, L Potts, Nolan.
Blackburn Rovers line-up: Hilton, Pike, Thompson, Davenport, Barnes, Carter, Mols (c), Whitehall, Vale, Buckley, Brennan (Burns, 72). Subs not used: Eastham, Boyomo, Saadi, Harlock.
Referee: Mr D Handley