Jordan Hugill’s early deflected goal saw Latics go down to defeat at Deepdale in a match they dominated for virtually 90 minutes but where they simply could not find a breakthrough.
They probed, they pressed but couldn’t break through. When they did find a way through on goal, Chris Maxwell in the Preston net stood tall.
Gary Caldwell made just the one change from last week’s draw against Fulham, Nathan Byrne making his first start for the club in place of the injured Alex Gilbey.
They fell behind after just seven minutes when Aiden McGeady’s shot struck Hugill eight yards out, the ball taking a wicked deflection to beat Adam Bogdan as he actually appeared to be trying to get out of the way of the ball. Latics players claimed for offside, but replays showed he was level.
Michael Jacobs immediately scuffed at an opportunity inside the box seconds after the restart, Jordi Gomez firing over as the ball broke loose. Stephen Warnock’s cross was just too high for Gomez to get a significant contact and Will Grigg headed just over from Yanic Wildschut’s cross.
Latics continued to press and probe, the next opportunity coming from Wildschut this time, whose goal bound shot in the 24th minute was deflected for a corner, Gomez heading over as the ball was swung in by Max Power.
Gomez was fouled on the edge of the box by Alan Browne on 32 minutes as the Spaniard broke through the middle. He took the free-kick himself, attempting to catch out the Preston wall by firing it low. The ball came straight back to him and a second attempt was blocked. Still no breakthrough.
A quick one-two between Gomez and Grigg after Jacobs was brought down on the half way line in the 40th minute then saw Gomez try his luck from outside the box with a low drive, which hit the side netting.
Latics were still dominant as the first half came drew to a close, with Jacobs and Wildschut swapping flanks in an attempt to find a way through but Preston held firm.
The second half exploded into life with a chance at both ends inside the first two minutes. Chris Maxwell saved Grigg’s drive before, on the break, Hugill found himself free to shoot and Bogdan got down sharply to deflect the ball for a corner.
Gomez’s brilliant reverse pass narrowly failed to find Jacobs’s run into the box and Maxwell was able to smother the ball.
Latics made an early change, Nick Powell replacing MacDonald in the 52nd minute, with David Perkins coming on for Jacobs in the 58th – his first game in over a month following injury. Could they make the difference?
Latics should have been level on the hour mark, Byrne twice denied as Wildschut’s cross floated over to him at the far post. His first drive was saved by Maxwell’s outstretched leg, his second immediately afterwards as the ball came directly back to him, beat the keeper but stuck the upright. So close.
McGeady fired from long range in the 67th but it was well wide.
A great move seconds later as Gomez and Warnock combined down the left almost found Grigg free down the centre but it was just ahead of him and he couldn’t control.
In an attempt to regain some initiative, Preston made a double substitution with Daniel Johnson and Ben Pearson replacing Paul Gallagher but Latics continued to be the team on the front foot.
Latics’ final substitution came in the 73rd minute, Craig Davies coming on for the industrious Byrne – could he be the one to make the difference against his former club?
Powell tried his luck from distance, but it was well over. But Latics were still the team doing the pressing.
Gomez was brought down 20 yards out after another flowing move after 85 minutes, his free kick on target but Maxwell held on.
Pearson then had a chance as Preston mounted a rare breakaway, his shot wide.
Less than five minutes to go and still Latics attacked but they just could not find a way through.