Paul Jewell would have been rightly disappointed had Ricardo Fuller’s 87th minute opener for Preston earned them all three points in the very first Division One game to be played at the JJB Stadium.
The game had been heading towards a goalless stalemate when the Jamaican striker headed past John Filan with less than 3 minutes of normal time remaining but a never say die attitude was evident and within 2 minutes Latics were level thanks to Lee McCulloch’s second goal of the week.
Jewell opted for virtually the same line up that had started against Hull City n the Carling Cup with only the return of John Filan in goal the only alteration.
However, there was one major surprise in the Wigan manager’s team sheet. The much talked about 18 year old Brazilian Magno Silva Vieira took his place amongst the substitutes after he had been granted a Portuguese passport in midweek.
The talented player arrived in Wigan 2 years ago at the recommendation of Brazilian legend Jairzhaino and had been putting in some very impressive performances for David Lee’s youth side including 2 goals in the season’s opener at Carlisle last weekend.
The visitors always looked threatening up front but Wigan more than matched them in this pulsating game and the first chance of the afternoon fell to Paul Jewell’s side with two minutes on the clock, Lee McCulloch firing straight at Preston keeper Jonathan Gould, signed at the start of the year from Celtic.
Minutes later Andy Liddell wasted a golden opportunity when he headed over the bar from two yards out after Preston had failed to clear a Peter Kennedy corner.
Wigan continued to push forward in search of their first ever goal in Division One and were almost rewarded through the impressive Jimmy Bullard who sent a low shot narrowily wide of the mark from the edge of the penalty area in the 19th minute.
They were very nearly a goal down 3 minutes later when Ricardo Fuller rattled his effort against the far post after waltzing past the Wigan defence and fortunately the rebound was quickly cleared.
Back up the other end of the field Jason Jarrett set up McCulloch, picking him out in the area but the Scot’s header flew way over the bar.
Filan needed to be at his best on the half hour mark when USA international Eddie Lewis sent a rocket of a shot goalward bound but the Wigan keeper did well to get down to block and collect at the second attempt.
Jason Jarrett sent his effort over the bar 5 minutes after the break after Neil Roberts had helped on a Nicky Eaden free kick and Ricardo Fuller sent a shot directly at Filan at the other end.
The action quickly returned to the Preston goalmouth with Neil Roberts having his header from a Jimmy Bullard corner was cleared off the line.
McCulloch went close again after Neil Roberts set him free, the Welshman doing well to win the ball midway into the Preston half, but his strike partner only managed to put the ball wide from 18 yards out with 20 minutes remaining.
Matt Jackson came to Wigan’s rescue moments later when Filan failed to hold onto a close range Richard Creswell shot but luckily Jackson was on hand to clear the ball to safety.
Gary Teale was introduced to the action after 72 minutes with Neil Roberts making way for him. This enabled Andy Liddell to push further forward as Teale replaced him on the right wing.
The substitution proved to be inspired with Teale’s pace down the wing making Wigan more threatening going forward and it was the former Ayr United man that provided the cross for McCulloch in the 83rd minute but the Wigan number 10’s header hardly troubled Gould in the Preston goal.
However it was Preston who took the lead and looked to have hit Wigan with the sucker punch. Graham Alexander picked out RICARDO FULLER in space with his corner kick and the former Crystal Palace striker sent home a thunderbolt of a header, leaving Filan with no chance.
Many a team would have been resigned to defeat but Wigan had other ideas and their response was quick and clinical. Gary Teale was again the provider for LEE McCULLOCH but this time his header rocketed home much to the delight of the home faithful.
Latics had a couple of decent chances to snatch all three points as the game entered stoppage time but at the end of the day anything other than a draw would have been cruel to either side.