PNE made their third shortest trip of the season on Easter Monday to face a Wigan side who still needed a result to guarantee their Championship status for next season. With tickets priced at £30 and the season all but finished, the North End faithful didn’t travel in their usual numbers, many (myself included) preferring to spend the bank holiday drinking in the sun.
Alex Neil named an unchanged side from the 4-0 victory over Ipswich on Good Friday. Connor Ripley was named on the bench for the first time after a few months on the sidelines with a ligament injury, perhaps we’ll see him between the sticks at the weekend?
Wigan lined up in their usual 4-2-3-1 system with Leon Clarke leading the line and Lee Evans, Kai Naismith and Gavin Massey providing the support. The much talked about Chelsea loanee Reece James slotted into central midfield alongside Sam Morsy, and he looked every inch a Premier League player – a physical presence, a very quick mind and he was very crisp in his passing.
The game started with North End also in a 4-2-3-1, the same XI as Good Friday but this time Gallagher was playing off the left, Robinson central and Maguire off the right – but there was plenty of rotation throughout. Robinson started well, with a license to roam around the pitch with little defensive responsibility, and he had North End’s first chance after good play with Nmecha. PNE looked to play quickly behind Wigan’s high line in the opening stages with Maguire and Nmecha happy to run in behind.
Reece James soon spotted Robinson’s influence and marked him tightly for most of the half, and North End’s play soon became lethargic in the scorching heat.
From Wigan’s first real entry into PNE’s box, they scored. A simple cross from the left wasn’t dealt with by Ben Davies, with his clearance falling straight into Kai Naismith’s path and he had the presence of mind to square the ball to former North End loanee Leon Clarke who tapped in from 3 yards. He looked offside at my first view but there weren’t many complaints from PNE’s back line.
1 chance, 1 goal. North End have struggled to deal with crosses all season and it is something that needs to be looked at over the off-season. The next 20 minutes was a midfield battle with neither side coming close to scoring. Nmecha was booked for a blatant foul in the Wigan box and Gavin Massey threatened on the break a couple of times.
Ryan Ledson, in the team due to Ben Pearson’s suspension, saw red after 35 minutes. This one will cause debate amongst fans but, for me, Ledson’s foot was high and out of control and a red card was probably fair. There are some suggestions that he slipped and was ran into by the Wigan player, but I can see why the referee gave it without hesitation.
North End then went into a 4-4-1 shape and looked to feed off scraps. That was Ryan Ledson’s second red of the season, and he will now miss 4 games (2 carried into next season). Ben Pearson himself returns from suspension this weekend, but it is something that we need to curb next season, without a doubt.
North End had a good spell in the second half, committing players and causing Wigan’s full-backs problems. Darnell Fisher got in behind Nathan Byrne and with acres of space, he shot across goal, North End were denied a strong penalty appeal after the shot looked to come off a Wigan arm. Ben Davies had a couple of chances from corners but the ball wouldn’t sit kindly for a PNE player to tap home.
Sam Morsy, already booked, brought down Sean Maguire and to everyone’s shock wasn’t shown a second yellow, an inconceivable decision from the referee. At that stage of the game, with North End pushing, I would’ve backed us to get something if it went 10 v 10. As it was, Morsy stayed on and the resulting free-kick came to nothing.
Shortly after, Wigan hit us with the sucker punch to make it 2-0. Another cross not cleared fell to Lee Evans who lashed the ball home into the roof of the net from 6 or so yards. PNE have the tendency to drop deep from crossing situations, so deep that the defenders can’t head the ball but have to contact it with their lower body, which makes it difficult to get distance on clearances.
Rudd lacks presence from these situations and it needs addressing next season. 2-0, 11v10, scorching heat, the game was done. It petered out expectedly, North End being given the runaround in the last 10 minutes. Louis Moult was introduced and chipped wide of Walton’s goal, however, we didn’t really threaten after going 2-0 down. Wigan needed it more, and got the points to guarantee their safety – their home form has been strong all season, and the win against North End comes after a win at Elland Road and a point against Norwich.
In North End’s current state of limbo, half preparing for next season, this result doesn’t come as a surprise. Expect more of the same on Saturday as Sheffield Wednesday come to Deepdale, with two sides focussing on plans for the next campaign with different players getting an opportunity. Maybe we will see Connor Ripley start in goal and perhaps Josh Ginnelly will get a start after looking bright in the last few games when he has come on.