Wigan Athletic produced their worst performance of the season as they were defeated 4-0 by Preston North End at Deepdale.
It was a chastening defeat for Latics who have made such a bright start to their Championship campaign against a team who had been bottom of the table before kick off.
Tom Barkhuizen gave North End the lead after Christian Walton failed to keep out his low drive at the near post on 17 minutes.
Latics lost star man Nick Powell to injury just before half time and North End added a second goal on 51 minutes when Daniel Johnson set up Callum Robinson.
Soon afterwards Latics’ task became even harder as midfielder Darron Gibson made a reckless challenge on Ben Pearson and was given a straight red card by referee Lee Probert.
But despite going down to ten-men Latics battled to get back into the game until the 85th minute when substitute Dan Burn was harshly adjudged to have have fouled Lukas Nmech in the box.
Paul Gallagher converted the resulting spot-kick to seal the three points, before Robinson added a fourth in added time.
Paul Cook made two changes from the side which drew with Swansea City in midweek with Samy Morsy and Will Grigg coming in for Lee Evans and Joe Garner.
Latics started the brighter forcing three early corners but the hosts went ahead when Barkhuizen’s low drive from inside the area couldn’t be kept out despite Walton getting his right hand to the ball.
Latics nearly drew level when Michael Jacobs’ deep cross was missed by keeper Chris Maxwell and the ball hit Nick Powell but Tom Clarke cleared off the line.
A significant moment in the game occurred on the half hour mark as Nick Powell was badly fouled from behind by Ben Pearson who was subsequently yellow carded. Powell struggled for the remainder of the half before having to be substituted by Dan Burn.
At half time Latics changed to a back three of Burn, Chey Dunkley and Cedric Kipre with James and Antonee Robinson pushed forward as wing backs.
Early in the second half North End went close as Browne fired against the crossbar.
Latics responded when Reece James broke forward forcing a good save from Maxwell. But from North End’s counter-attack they doubled their lead. Daniel Johnson fed Robinson in the area and the Republic of Ireland international finished from close range.
Matters got worse for Latics a few minutes later as Gibson was given a red card for a foul on Ben Pearson.
James forced another good save from Maxwell as Latics battled to get a foothold in the game. Substitute Callum McManaman was soon causing a threat down the right hand side and a goal at this point might have affected the outcome.
But it was all to no avail as with five minutes of normal time remaining Burn was adjudged to have fouled Lukas Nmecha in the area, Gallagher converting the resulting penalty.
Just to rub salt into the wound after six minutes of added time North End added a fourth goal when Chris Maguire cut the ball back for Robinson to score.
A dreadful derby day and one that Latics’ players and fans will soon want to forget.
Reece James was the only player to emerge with any credit from Latics’ worst performance since Paul Cook became manager. Cook was clearly upset when interviewed after the game.
The manager said,
“The players have been fantastic to date; we have offered so much goodness in my time at the club but that was an all-time low today and that was a game where – irrespective of the sending off etc. – Preston were a lot better than us and fully deserved the win.”
Captain Samy Morsy tellingly admitted that Latics lacked desire and were second best on the day.
“We had a lot of fans here today and we apologise to them. We really let them down with our performance. It hurts me to say it but they wanted it more than we did.”
Few people had seen this performance coming after a good start to the season, but Cook and the players should see it as a big wake up call with some very difficult games coming up after the international break.
The fans will be expecting a big reaction from the players after such a dispiriting display against local rivals. Cook will need to work hard on the training ground to re-instil some confidence and changes to the starting eleven are surely inevitable after some very poor individual performances.