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THE CHASERS; Preston target promotion.

Byline: JOHN RICHARDSON at the DW Stadium

PRESTON'S stroll turned into a stutter towards a promotion play off place for Alex Neil's relieved side.

Leading 2-0 and with midfield masters Ben Pearson and Daniel Johnson pulling the strings it appeared a case of just now many goals.

But Wigan boss Paul Cook almost pulled another rabbit out of the hat when he introduced 17-year-old Joe Gelhardt off the substitutes bench.

Suddenly Preston found themselves under the cosh with Gelhardt calmly lobbing into a packed box for defender Chey Dunkley to pounce for his seventh goal of the season.

But North End survived to leave the famous old club dreaming of the Premier League.

North End boss Neil said: "We showed great mental strength and that's the biggest thing that gets you believing whether you can do it or not. I think in the past we have half believed - but not really - and if we've got any chance of doing it this year and getting into the play offs they have to fully believe and why shouldn't they? "That's something we need to instil more and more as the games go by. The last 10 games will dictate things because that's when pressure kicks in.

VITAL STATS "If you don't WIGAn't want that pressure as a player you shouldn't be playing."

The opening Preston goal after just six minutes was a North End masterclass, created and finished with stunning perfection.

Pearson, always looking to supply the killer pass, did exactly that with a lacerating ball inside the fullback for Johnson to cross to the far post for Tom Barkhuizen to steer home. As Wigan wobbled Neil's side should have been out of sight with Sean Maguire and Scott Sinclair missing good chances.

It didn't prove costly as Wigan were once again caught out just after the break. Alan Browne and Barkhuizen combined to set up Johnson who hammered past Marshall from around the penalty spot.

Cook had seen enough and abandoned his three at the back formation with a double substitution which included wonder kid Gelhardt.

"It was the poorest performance for a long time. Young Joe Gelhardt gave us a lift and we almost nicked a draw, one we wouldn't have deserved."

WIGAN: Marshall 6, Kipre 6, Dunkley 7, Naismith 6, Byrne 7, Evans 6 (Jacobs 54, 6), Morsy 6, Williams 7, Pearce 6 (Gelhardt 54, 7), Lowe 6, Moore 6 (Garner 81). Subs not used: Jones, Massey, Roberts, Balogun. PRESTON: Rudd 6, Fisher 6, Bauer 6, Davies 7, Hughes 6 (Clarke 72, 6), Pearson 7, Browne 6 Johnson 7, Barkhuizen 7, Maguire 6 (Stockley 81), Sinclair 6 (Harrop 69, 6). Subs not used: Ripley, Gallagher, Rafferty, Nugent. MAN OF THE MATCH: Daniel Johnson. Another livewire performance from the Jamaican. Involved in everything. REFEREE: Darren England 6. WIGAN PRESTON 4 .. Shots on Target 4 4 ..Shots off Target 4 11.Corners..8 13..Fouls10 0 Offsides1 68.7..Passing Success %.60.1 332.Total Passes271 56.7..Possession % ..43.3 60.4 .Territorial Adv % .. 39.6 VITAL STATS

CAPTION(S):

BARK AND BITE Preston's Tom Barkhuizen celebrates his goal with fellow scorer Daniel Johnson

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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:JOHN RICHARDSON at the DW Stadium
Publication:The People (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 9, 2020
Words:524
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