Dave Seddon's match verdict on Preston North End's victory over Wigan Athletic
Preston North End pressed the reboot button for their clash with Wigan Athletic and effectively went back to the start of the season.
This 4-0 romp was PNE’s first Championship victory since the opening day of the campaign, their last clean sheet in the league having come that afternoon too.
It was a long two months in between with seven defeats and three draws leading to a great deal of angst and worry among the faithful.
But for 90 minutes that cloud was lifted on Saturday afternoon, North End getting the better of Wigan with some ease in the autumn sunshine.
Three points followed the one gathered in such dramatic circumstances at Aston Villa and suggests a small corner might have been turned in their league fortunes.
Whether that is the case will be seen during the run of games after the international break.
At least the break can be enjoyed instead of mulling over a poor result for the best part of a fortnight.
Preston boss Alex Neil is not one to display too much emotion once he is outside of the technical area.
There was a spring in the step and a smile on his face though, as he walked into the post-match press conference.
“You don’t know how good it feels to come and talk to you after a win,” said Neil.
Instead of a post-mortem which he has had to deliver too often this term, the Scot was able to talk about a job well done – very well in fact.
Preston bossed things for long spells and displayed a ruthless edge to record their biggest league victory of Neil’s 15 months in charge.
Comfortable at 2-0 and with the advantage of having an extra man after a red card for Wigan’s Darron Gibson, North End didn’t take their foot off the gas.
They added two late goals, the fourth of the day enough to lift them above Ipswich on goal difference.
Neil admitted that if he had written the perfect script for how he wanted things to pan out, this was it.
The clean sheet pleased him as much as the flow of goals at the other end.
It’s the defensive record which has come under scrutiny, with 24 goals being leaked.
Neil had chopped and changed his back line in a bid to plug the leaks but to no avail.
He opted for another combination against Wigan, pairing skipper Tom Clarke and Jordan Storey together in the centre-back berths.
The old head and young pup proved the ideal match for this game, extinguishing the threat of Will Grigg who was certainly not on fire.
They saw off Joe Garner too when the ex-Preston striker came on as a sub.
The use of Clarke and Storey meant Ben Davies dropped down to the bench, while a groin strain saw Paul Huntington miss out.
Davies being left out was the big pre-game talking point and it is fair to say doubts were raised on social media about Neil’s choice.
The result and clean sheet backed him up, however I doubt Davies’ stay on the bench will be a long one.
Another name on the team sheet to grab attention was that of Sean Maguire.
The Irish striker was on the bench for his first involvement in the squad this season.
Damage to a hamstring tendon had delayed his start to the season by two months.
He got 20 minutes under his belt, laying on the fourth goal for good measure.
Maguire needs easing back into action and there will be anxiety in the Preston camp that he comes safely through his time away with the Republic of Ireland squad.
Once he comes back to Deepdale, the emergence of Lukas Nmecha this last week should mean North End don’t need to lean too heavily on Maguire.
Having looked a little lost in the first month of his loan, the Manchester City teenager has shown more of what he is about these last two games.
At Villa he led the line well, while Wigan found him a tough customer to deal with.
He used his pace to good effectand gave as good as he got physically against the visitors’ centre-backs.
Nmecha won one penalty and should have been given another – how Cedric Kipre got away with a foul on him in the first half is anyone’s guess.
The only thing missing from the 19-year-old display was a goal but on the evidence of Saturday, he shouldn’t have to wait much longer.
Nmecha wanted to take the penalty Preston did get but Paul Gallagher wisely chose to put sentiment to one side and stepped up himself.
Gallagher’s spot kick, two Callum Robinson strikes and Tom Barkhuizen’s opener took PNE’s goals tally to 18 in the league.
They are the seventh highest scorers in the division which just highlights how costly the leaking defence at the other end has been.
For the first few minutes on Saturday, it was Wigan on the front foot in a bid to exploit their hosts vulnerability at the back.
But once North End took a 17th minute lead, there was no looking back.
Barkhuizen put them in front, drilling a first-time shot on the angle past the keeper after being picked-out by Alan Browne’s reverse pass.
It was a lead doubled six minutes into the second half, Browne having already hit the underside of the bar in the spell since the half-time brew.
Goalline technology was to show Browne’s shot being just 3.68mm away from a goal.
Browne had a hand in the second goal, feeding a pass down the right side of the box to feed Barkhuizen.
His low cross found the feet of Daniel Johnson who squared it for Robinson to slot home from 10 yards.
Within six minutes Wigan went down to 10 men, Gibson’s foot-up sliding challenge on Ben Pearson punished by a straight red card.
North End’s third goal came in the 85th minute, Dan Burn’s clumsy challenge on Nmecha seeing referee Lee Probert point to the spot.
Gallagher, on as a substitute for regular taker DJ, made no mistake.
The fourth goal came with the game in its 96th minute, Maguire pulling the ball back for Robinson to flick it home at the near post.