This Lancashire Derby at the DW Stadium had all the ingredients to be a classic:
A cold, zippy afternoon, a highest home crowd of the season, a raucous sold-out away end and two teams desperate to take all three points.
What followed was a bland affair – a goalless draw that, in truth, does neither side any favours.
Preston North End’s playoff hopes have taken a major hit as they now sit nine points behind sixth placed Sheffield Wednesday – while Wigan Athletic remain in the relegation zone, their mood no doubt worsened by hearing of wins for QPR and Burton.
It could have been so much worse for the Latics – and so much better for the Lilywhites – had it not been for Matt Gilks’ magnificent double save from Jordan Hugill, in what was the game’s only major flash point.
After a bright start by the hosts, disaster struck when the vibrant Omar Bogle brought down Callum Robinson in the box after just nine minutes.
The in-form Hugill took the spot kick and saw his tame effort stopped by the veteran Gilks, who was making his home debut for the club, before seeing his follow up effort duly smothered by the ex-Blackpool goalkeeper.
It’s been a gruelling week for Championship teams with three games in seven days but North End manager Simon Grayson says he has been pleased with his side’s work.
“We were probably the team that tried to push and win the game,” said Grayson.
“We’re disappointed, but if someone would have given us seven points out of nine starting last Saturday I would have been more than delighted.”
The Lilywhites boss, who was celebrating four years in charge of the club this weekend, also insisted that Hugill has been the man on penalty taking duty for the last few weeks.
The penalty was just Preston’s second of the season. The first was taken and scored by Daniel Johnson, who was on the bench at the DW Stadium, and prior to that it had been Joe Garner with the responsibility.
Hugill’s miss was a golden opportunity for Preston to secure all three points, on an afternoon when chances came few and far between.
“We’ve hardly had a penalty to take this year but Jordan’s always been on them,” said Grayson.
“He practises them lots and he was confident, unfortunately I don’t think he struck it as well as he would’ve wanted to and Gilksy makes a decent save.”
Grayson’s opposite number Warren Joyce seemed equally content with a point, though he would later learn of wins for Burton and QPR which cuts his side further adrift of safety.
“It was a hard-fought game without a lot of clear-cut chances. In the end it was a fair result,” said Joyce, who spent five years at Deepdale during his playing career.
“I don’t think we could’ve done much more to try and win the game than we did.
“It was a proper derby game, both sides going at it, both sets of fans were fantastic and made it a good stage for the player to perform on. Unfortunately we couldn’t give our fans the win.”
It was a frantic start to proceedings at the DW as the lively Bogle managed to get in behind the Preston defence twice, forcing saves from Chris Maxwell.
Bogle was then involved at the wrong end as he tangled with Robinson in the box, referee Chris Kavanagh pointing to the spot without hesitation.
Up-stepped the inform Hugill in front of Preston’s travelling contingent, his penalty was struck low to Gilks’ left who saved, before leaping to his feet to prevent the forward from prodding home the rebound.
The derby flared up just after the half hour when Aiden McGeady’s late, studs up challenge was followed by a melee and a yellow card for the Republic of Ireland international.
The match was going at a blistering pace and just moments later Bogle was brought down in the area by Paul Huntington – an incident that looked very similar to the first penalty – only for Kavanagh to wave away appeals to a furious Wigan reaction.
There was just enough time for former Latics loanee Tyias Browning to pick up a booking after flying into Ryan Tunnicliffe before both sides trudged off following a breathless first-half.
Preston dominated the ball in the second half as they looked to force the issue, half chances fell to Ben Pearson and McGeady but neither could trouble Gilks.
Grayson rolled the dice on the hour mark throwing strikers Jermaine Beckford and Simon Makienok into the mix to replace the tiring Hugill and Robinson.
While Joyce confirmed his satisfaction with a point, sending on David Perkins to shore up his midfield and Grayson says this shows how far his men have come.
“Wigan made it difficult late on today,” he said.
“Perhaps that shows you how far we’ve come as a club that we’re making attacking changes and Wigan are making defensive ones.”
The full-time whistle was met with both sets of fans appreciating what they had seen from their sides – but both will be left rueing what might of been.
This is now the 15th time Wigan have failed to score this season, something Joyce knows must change if there is to be Championship football at the DW next season.
“We just lacked the last bit of quality around the box,” he said.
“Both forwards worked hard for us today and hopefully in the coming weeks they can pop up and turn the point into three points.”
Wigan: Gilks, Connolly, Buxton, Burn, Warnock, Power (Hanson, 77), MacDonald (Perkins, 85), Morsy, Grigg, Tunnicliffe and Bogle. Subs not used: Obertan, Laurent, Mandron, Roberts and Weir.
PNE: Maxwell, Browning, Clarke, Huntington, Cunningham, Horgan (Barkhuizen, 82), Browne, Pearson, McGeady, Robinson (Beckford, 63) and Hugill (Makienok, 63). Subs not used: Lindegaard, Johnson, May and Boyle.
Referee: Chris Kavanagh (Lancashire)
Attendance: 15,117 (4,765)