Dave Seddon's verdict: Wigan Athletic 3 Preston North End 2 - DW Stadium defeat provides few clues ahead of season's opener

Preston North End’s Friday night out in Wigan was their last appearance in the public eye before a private run-in to the start of the season.

By Dave Seddon
Saturday, 31st July 2021, 8:00 am

The DW Stadium clash gave few clues as to what to expect on the opening day. North End’s pre-season campaign also didn’t stand or fall on this one match.

It was probably the most entertaining of the friendlies we’ve been able to see.

The result wasn’t what they wanted, a defeat to a side in the division below, albeit one who have splashed some Bahrain cash this summer.

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Joe Rodwell-Grant celebrates scoring Preston North End's second goal against Wigan at the DW Stadium

McAvoy will have learned things from it, good and bad, but not a huge amount in terms of putting a team on the pitch to face Hull City in their Championship opener.

That will come more from Saturday’s events behind closed doors, arranged in place of Manchester United’s cancelled visit.

Perhaps three of those who started at Wigan will be under close consideration for a start next Saturday, Alan Browne, Sepp van den Berg and Scott Sinclair. They might not get in but I’d say they were the closest from Friday night’s team.

Browne was excellent in his hour on the pitch as he picks up match fitness after summer surgery to clean up a ‘mess’ of his left hip – the skipper’s description of the wear and tear on the joint.

Paul Gallagher and Frankie McAvoy

For van den Berg there was a game in his favoured role as a centre-half, although he might have to settle for playing at wing-back when the real ball comes out.

Sinclair looked sharp on the right wing but that wide role isn’t likely to be available against Hull.

McAvoy went 4-3-3 at Wigan - the midfield shape changed a couple of times over the course of the evening - but 3-5-2 remains his go-to system, one which has served him well.

Shipping three goals and losing the game were the minus points from this well competed friendly.

North End striker Sean Maguire tussles for possession against Wigan

There were plus points dotted in there, the previous mentioned display from Browne for starters.

Jamie Thomas didn’t do his chances of a longer stay any harm either, playing well in 73 minutes on the pitch.

When his race was run it was Joe Rodwell-Grant who came off the bench to take his place up front.

The teenager had been on for just a quarter of an hour when he ran clear to score the Lilywhites’ second goal.

It might only have been a friendly but the beaming smile and the lad patting his chest in front of the couple of hundred PNE fans showed he was as proud as punch.

Rodwell-Grant’s fellow substitute Lewis Leigh gave a decent account of himself too after replacing Browne.

So not a totally downbeat night despite the defeat, their third reverse of pre-season.

You could say the summer build-up has at times taken a strange course.

It started with a monsoon which forced the Bamber Bridge game to be moved to the training ground.

Then there were the two games in Scotland when Nicola Sturgeon decreed no away fans – the second of those at Celtic was arguably PNE’s pre-season highlight.

Bolton were taken on at neutral Leyland, Accrington happened at short notice, then Covid moved the Manchester City trip behind closed doors.

At least that one went ahead unlike United’s visit.

And so to Wigan, a side who had beaten Stoke City from the Championship four nights earlier and look to be rising again after a tough year in administration.

PNE were the better team in the first half yet trailed at the interval to a goal from Will Keane, once of this parish.

Keane steered in a smart finish from Tendayi Darikwa’s cross, a player courted by Preston in 2015.

Darikwa was the man who inadvertently got North End on level pegging, turning a cross from Scott Sinclair into his own net under pressure from van den Berg three minutes into the second half.

The visitors had a grip on the game at that stage but were to release it as Stephen Humphrys netted from close range – referee Darren Bond allowing it to stand despite a big shout for handball.

Callum Lang beat the wall and the dive of Mat Hudson with a free-kick to make it 3-1 with 21 minutes left.

PNE’s second goal from Rodwell-Grant in the 87th minute made for an interesting finale.

The teenager, who signed pro terms in the summer, ran on to Tom Bayliss’ through ball to guide a confident finish past Wigan keeper Ben Amos.

So the curtain starts to come down on pre-season and we switch focus to matches which count. Whether the friendlies have offered any clues to the campaign ahead, we will soon find out.

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