Memory match: A look back at Preston North End’s first league meeting with Wigan Athletic in 1983

Alex Bruce is congratulated by Steve Elliott and a ball boy
Alex Bruce is congratulated by Steve Elliott and a ball boy

Preston and Wigan met in the league for the first time on New Year’s Day 1983 and it ended well for the Lilywhites.

They won 4-1 at Deepdale, Alex Bruce (2), Andy McAteer and John Kelly finding the net in front of a 7,760 crowd.

John Kelly fires home Preston's fourth goal against Wigan Athletic at Deepdale on January 1, 1983

John Kelly fires home Preston's fourth goal against Wigan Athletic at Deepdale on January 1, 1983

Wigan’s promotion to the Third Division had brought the two clubs together in league action – they had met in the League Cup two years before with PNE winning both legs of the tie.

North End, managed by Gordon Lee, had gone into the Wigan game on the back of some indifferent form.

They won only four of their first 20 league and cup games that season.

But things had started to turn around a little – with Blackpool beaten in the FA Cup – in the run-up to the turn of the year.

Wigan’s visit saw a recall to the PNE side for Bruce, the striker having been out of the starting XI since November. He responded in the best way with two goals, justifying his recall.

It was the visitors who made the early running, with half-chances for John Butler, Graham Barrow and Eamonn O’Keefe.

But North End took the lead in the 23rd minute, Don O’Riordan taking the ball down the right and putting over a cross which caused all sorts of problems in the Wigan defence.

The ball eventually fell to Bruce, who saw a shot blocked before netting at the second attempt.

Bruce saw a shot cleared off the line by former PNE right-back John McMahon, before the hosts doubled their lead after half-an-hour.

It was gifted to them by Roy Tunks, another ex-North End player – the keeper would later return for a second spell.

Tunks came off his line to try and punch clear Andy McAteer’s corner.

But Tunks missed the ball and it flew into the net, gifting McAteer his fourth goal of the campaign.

Tunks made amends soon after, pulling off a fine save to deny Steve Elliott.

Wigan halved the deficit just before half-time, Butler beating Alan Gowling to the ball and crossing for O’Keefe to score.

However, Preston pretty much had the game sewn up inside the first six minutes of the second half.

In the 47th minute, Bruce fired home from close range after Houston had kept the ball in play on the byline and crossed into the middle.

North End’s fourth goal came from the penalty spot with 51 minutes on the clock.

Kelly was brought down in the box by Kevin Langley, the referee pointing to the spot. Even though Bruce was on a hat-trick, it was Kelly who picked himself up to take the penalty, dispatching it into the net past Tunks.

There were chances for both sides as the second half went on, Gowling doing well to clear a shot from Langley off the line.

O’Riordan, McAteer and Houston went close for PNE, while late on home keeper Peter Litchfield made three saves to prevent the away team reducing the arrears.

The January 1 victory was not to inspire an immediate upturn in fortune for North End – they didn’t win again for two months.

However, from March 1 onwards they only lost two of their last 16 games and were to finish 16th in the table.

The final day of the season saw them visit Wigan in the reverse fixture, a game they won 1-0 at Springfield Park with a goal from Gowling.

Preston: Litchfield, Walsh, O’Riordan, Gowling, McAteer, Kelly, Coleman, Sayer, Houston, Elliott, Bruce. Sub (unused): Bell.