Latics’ recent run of good form came to an end against playoff hopefuls Preston with a 2-1 defeat at the DW Stadium.
The visitors started brightly and were ahead after only seven minutes when Tom Barkhuizen converted Daniel Johnson’s cross.
Preston could’ve gone further in front as Sean Maguire forced a superb fingertip save from David Marshall and Scott Sinclair fired wide from a good position.
But soon after the interval the visitors doubled their lead when Barkhuizen’s cut back was turned home by Johnson.
Latics rallied when substitute Joe Gelhardt was introduced and the young England star was instrumental in Latics’ goal crossing for Chey Dunkley to force the ball home at close range.
The hosts pressed hard for the equaliser but they just didn’t have enough fire power to unlock a resolute Preston defence.
Latics remain in the bottom three and four points from safety while PNE move up to sixth in the Championship table.
Paul Cook made one change from the win against Leeds United with Jamal Lowe replacing Gavin Massey. Surprisingly Tom Pearce continued at left back and AC Milan transfer target Antonee Robinson wasn’t even on the bench.
Latics had an early chance when Jamal Lowe got in behind the Preston defence but his effort was tipped around the post by Declan Rudd.
PNE came forward strongly and were ahead on seven minutes as Johnson crossed for Barkhuizen to finish at the back post.
The visitors could’ve doubled their lead on 14 minutes but Marshall produced a superb fingertip save from Sean Maguire’s header. Sinclair then had a glorious chance but he fired wide of the target much to Latics’ relief.
Latics tried to gain a foothold in the game and a succession of deliveries into the box presented opportunities for Dunkley and Kieffer Moore, but neither attempt troubled Rudd.
Dunkley then headed a Lee Evans cross narrowly over the bar on 21 minutes.
Moore had another chance but this time his goalbound strike deflected wide.
Latics final opportunity to level in the first half came with Joe Williams in a good position but his tame effort was easily saved by Rudd.
Latics began the second half disastrously as Lowe easily conceded possession high up the pitch and they were punished as Barkhuizen squared the ball for Johnson to convert.
An uphill struggle for Latics now, so Cook made a double change introducing Joe Gelhardt and Michael Jacobs.
Gelhardt immediately made an impact as his cross was smashed home by Dunkley at close range.
Cook’s reluctance to start Gelhardt continues to frustrate Latics’ fans as the 17 year-old striker continues to impress when he’s on the pitch and is their most dangerous attacker.
In fact it was Gelhardt who almost got a leveller when his 35-yard strike was well saved by Rudd low down at his near post.
But despite their late dominance and six minutes of added time Latics were unable to get an equaliser against a Preston team who look like a good bet for the playoffs.
Cook should rue his decision to go with three centre backs at home and to leave their most consistent player Robinson out of the team. Lowe had another frustrating game and it is remarkable that the manager continues to select him. Gelhardt’s absence from the starting eleven also continues to be a mystery.
Surely the manager will make the necessary changes for the Middlesbrough game on Tuesday night, reverting to a back four and selecting both Robinson and Gelhardt.