Wigan Athletic: Five things we learned from Preston (h)

Paul Kendrick reflects on five talking points from Wigan Athletic's 2-1 home defeat at the hands of Preston at the DW Stadium...

Sunday, 9th February 2020, 2:20 pm
Updated Monday, 10th February 2020, 3:36 pm
Chey Dunkley's goal was one of the few positives against Preston

1 Two steps forward, one massive step back. After the back-to-victories over Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds, confidence was high that Latics could win a third Championship game in a row for the first time in six years - dating back to Uwe Rosler's watch. But the performance was, in the words of Paul Cook, 'as flat and as poor as we've been for a long time', and Latics didn't give themselves a chance of picking up the three points that would have temporarily lifted them out of the relegation zone. The watching Sky viewers must have been wondering how on earth these players won at league leaders Leeds seven days earlier - and it was like watching a completely different team out there.

2 One size doesn't fit all. If the manager's decision to switch to a back five at Leeds last week was a masterstroke - with Latics able to soak up the relentless pressure from the home side before hitting them on the counter - the decision to stick with the same formation for a home game against the lowest away scorers in the Championship was the exact opposite. Right from the off, Latics were over-run in midfield, with Preston able to swarm forward and put pressure on a backline who didn't look at all comfortable - in or out of possession. The visitors could have been out of sight before Latics finally got going, at the beginning of the second half, with a switch back to 4-2-3-1 and the introduction from the bench of...

3 ...Joe Gelhardt - the legend grows. The Young England star is not so much knocking on the door for a starting spot, he has already booted it through and is now standing on the front step with thousands of Latics fans behind him, all waving pitchforks. After 55 minutes of pure torture, the sight of Gelhardt on the touchline, waiting to come on, sparked the crowd into life, and the team to pull their collective fingers out. Pretty much every single Latics player improved in the last 35 minutes, with the 17-year-old taking a central role in his side's attempts to get back into it. He laid on a goal for Chey Dunkley within four minutes of coming on, and only a super save in the last minute from Declan Rudd denied Gelhardt his first senior goal at the DW. Paul Cook is determined to 'protect' Gelhardt for as long as possible. But on this evidence, it's the opposition who are being protected for every minute he is not on the field.

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Chey Dunkley

4 Demolition derby...again. Once more, Latics flattered to deceive on derby day against the old enemy, with local pride and bragging rights against conceded. It's sadly become customary for Latics to cop a beating at Deepdale in recent years, but for it to happen at the DW - in front of the Sky cameras - was even harder to take. Preston were able to complete a first league double over Latics since 1992-93 without really getting out of second gear, with too many Wigan players losing their personal battles with their opposite numbers. It took until Gelhardt's introduction for someone in a blue shirt to put Ben Pearson on his backside. Prior to that, the only person to fell the North End midfielder was referee Darren England, whose superb off-the-ball block as Latics broke at least raised a smile.

5 Slam Dunk! Chey Dunkley was once again the man Latics turned to in the opposition box, with the big man showing predatory instincts to net his sixth goal of the campaign. No-one else at the club has more than three - the departed Josh Windass had four - which, at the two-thirds stage of the season, is a damning statistic. Kieffer Moore again put in a sterling shift up top but, with zero support until Gelhardt's introduction, he was left more isolated than Tom Hanks' character in 'Cast Away'. If part of the idea behind the back five was to ensure crosses coming in from the wing-backs, it didn't work.