Two goals in the last five minutes saw a youthful Preston North End side defeated by league leaders Wigan at Christopher Park.
Finishing with a number of under 15’s and 16’s on the pitch, Preston will already be looking forward to next season as their debutants provided room for optimism despite the defeat.
Nick Harrison said: “I thought we were excellent, we started the game very young and we finished it even younger.
“I thought the performance was fantastic, obviously we are always disappointed to lose, but I think we’ve got to lose in the right way and I thought today, how hard the players worked and the type of football we played was outstanding.”
While the performance from Preston’s youthful side was extremely encouraging, the result for Wigan means that they will be become champions if they can avoid defeat on Tuesday away at Rochdale.
Goals from Louis Robles, Callum Lang and Sam Cosgrove secured the points for Wigan, but it was Josh Earls who scored on his debut for Preston’s Academy side.
Despite Preston looking the more likely to break the deadlock, it was Wigan’s top scorer Robles who opened the scoring.
Robles scored twice in the reverse fixture and he netted again as Wigan turned defence into attack and although Ross Dalton was able to keep out his first effort, the Latics’ captain slotted home the rebound.
But North End were rewarded for their hard work just before half-time as they levelled through Earls.
Cutting in from the left hand side Earls fired the ball to the right of Wigan ‘keeper Owen Evans’ goal as Preston finally had something to show for their efforts.
Preston went into half-time deservedly level, but it was Wigan who almost regained the lead just five minutes into the second half as Cosgrove rattled the crossbar from three yards out, although it looked easier to score when Robles slid the ball into his path.
Preston were unable to assert their dominance that they had enjoyed in the first half as Wigan started to play like a side that was going for the league title.
The hosts did eventually retake the lead in what was a classic counter attacking move as the Latics moved the ball quickly down the left hand side through James Barrigan, whose powerful drive into the area allowed Lang to tap home from close range.
The hosts then made sure of the points just a few moments later with Preston guilty of not clearing their lines, allowing Cosgrove to make up for his earlier miss by sliding the ball past Dalton.
The Wigan forward made no mistake this time around as he put his side within one point of the title.
But Preston’s performance was a fearless one which bodes well for next season, especially as there are a number of second years who will be moving on.
Sean Whelan said: “I thought we played well, we were the better team for long parts of the game, but at the end they just caught us on the counter attack as we were pushing for the win.
“We had a young team out, we had a few U15s and U16s so it’s good for next year and obviously a few of the lads won’t be with us next year so it’s good to send them away on a good performance.”
Preston had their chances throughout the game and will feel unfortunate that their young side were unable to add to their points tally on the final day.
Harrison said: “We had three U15s players on the pitch to finish with and that’s how it should be because we are at a stage of the season now where the second years are looking to find other clubs, so it gives the younger lads an opportunity and that’s why I’m delighted with how they’ve performed, because,
for me, it was never a 3-1 game. I thought 1-1 would probably have been a fair result.”