PNE suffered their first defeat of pre-season as Bolton Wanderers came out on top at a packed out County Ground.
Gethin Jones opened the scoring for the Trotters 51 minutes in and that proved to be the only goal of the game.
1,100 North End supporters were in attendance in Leyland as they got the first chance to watch their team play since March 2020, and in glorious weather conditions too.
Frankie McAvoy included Jack Baxter and goalkeeper Connor Ripley for the first time in pre-season, while Patrick Bauer took the captain’s armband.
North End can perhaps feel hard done by that they weren’t awarded a penalty inside five minutes, as Sean Maguire kickstarted an attack with a lovely flick, which ended with Scott Sinclair, who went down under pressure from Ricardo Santos, but referee Jeremy Simpson waved away the appeals.
Bolton almost opened the scoring moments later with a free-kick from 20 yards, but Ripley did well to tip Xavier Amaechi’s effort round the post.
On the half hour mark, Sinclair was again asking questions of the referee, this time being sandwiched between two Bolton players inside the area, but again Simpson didn’t give him the decision.
The Trotters had an array of chances in the five minutes before the break, firstly through Josh Sheehan who tested Ripley. His save fell kindly for Sarcevic, however he blazed his effort over the crossbar.
After Jones then fired a shot across the face of goal, Ripley was required again to produce a stunning double stop, firstly to keep out Sheehan once more before springing back to his feet to dive in front of Sarcevic’s shot from just more than six yards.
North End came close themselves through Ethan Walker, a 39th-minute substitute, as he cut inside onto his right foot to curl an effort towards the far corner, but it landed just wide and the sides went into half-time goalless.
Mathew Hudson replaced Ripley at the break and before he knew it he was having to pick the ball up out of his goal, with Gethin Jones firing an effort home from the edge of the area to break the deadlock.
Hudson made a fantastic save to deny Bolton a second, as his fingertips prevented Oladapo Afolayan’s curling shot from reaching the top corner.
The game became heated around the 60-minute mark, as three players went into the book, with 17-year-old Lewis Leigh being shown a yellow card for a strong challenge on Bolton’s Jones, who was also shown a yellow card for his reaction, before Afolayan received the same punishment for dissent.
Sean Maguire tried his luck down the other end on 66 minutes, seeing his effort comfortably saved by Joel Dixon, and that was his last action as Frankie McAvoy rung the changes, swapping all of the outfield players.
Two of the men to come on, Emil Riis and Ched Evans, almost combined for an equaliser, with the Danish forward showing good feet to turn his man and cross for his strike partner, but Evans couldn’t quite get the connection he wanted.
That was about that for PNE in the final stages, though, as they fell to a first defeat of pre-season.
Starting XI: Ripley (Hudson, 46), van den Berg, Earl, Bauer, Bayliss, Rafferty, Maguire, Baxter (Walker, 39), Sinclair, Leigh, Potts.
Full-time XI: Hudson, Storey, Lindsay, Hughes, Cunningham, Whiteman, Ledson, Mawene, Barkhuizen, Evans, Riis.