Bright start then Latics lose their way
Lee Johnson took encouragement from Latics’ performance at Preston North End in npower League One, even though they lost 2-0.
Latics manager believes his side showed the spirit and application needed to stave off the threat of relegation.
They more than matched the Lilywhites and created more clear-cut chances until conceding both goals late in the game following another disappointing fade out.
Johnson said: "The reason why we are down at the bottom is because we can only reach the 65/70 minute period and then we die. Most games are won and lost in the last 20 minutes.
"And we have to score when we are on top in matches as we have been in quite a few of the games since I have been here. We have to take our chances and, when we get a lead, it is important we hold on to it.
"We shouldn’t be down there, but we cannot keep saying that. And it has be proven over 41 games that something is wrong. We have to make sure we address it quickly."
Johnson, who conceded it is looking like a battle between Latics and Scunthorpe United for the last relegation place, added: "I am sure the fans will go home gutted, like ourselves, but at the same time having seen an improvement and the boys gave their best to get us out of trouble.
"The boys were up for it, their fight was good and they were putting their heads in where it hurts. I am sure the fans will have enjoyed their commitment."
Johnson added the plaudits for playing well counted for nothing, however, as they lost.
He continued: "We were comfortable and I was enjoying watching my team play. We were working very hard as a team and then reached the 60/65 minute point and crashed .
"We had some good chances, good runs, attacks and corners and our set-piece delivery was good. We were just dying for somebody to get on the end of them.
"There was passion in our performance, but sometimes when you are down there you don’t get the breaks. I maintain the harder you get, the luckier you get. We need that bit of luck and the break needed to get a goal."
Johnson made two defensive changes from the side beaten at home by Carlisle United on Saturday as Connor Brown and James Tarkowski were replaced by the fit-again Lee Croft and Cliff Byrne.
After playing 4-2-3-1 for his first four matches, there was also a change of system to 4-4-1-1 with Robbie Simpson operating just behind Lee Barnard with Jose Baxter wide left, Bobby Reid centre midfield and Korey Smith slotting in at right back.
Latics made a bright start and had the two great chances to take the lead late in the opening period, both falling to Jose Baxter.
First he cut in from the left and saw a shot ripple the side netting as many Latics' fans at the opposite end thought it was a goal and then his free kick forced a fine flying save from keeper Declan Rudd.
Stuart Beavon had Preston’s best chance, an angled shot which Byrne cleared off the line not long before he was forced off in the opening period through injury.
Jonathan Grounds just failed to get on the end of Baxter’s free kick soon after the restart as the left back was only a couple of yards out.
Preston then rattled Latics' crossbar as Jack King’s header from Will Hayhurst's left-wing cross eluded keeper Dean Bouzanis.
Simpson shot narrowly wide and Latics looked well place to pick up at least one point before disaster struck in the 72nd minute when Grounds handled a cross from substitute Jeffrey Monakana who had barely been on the field for two minutes.
It was the first penalty Preston had been awarded at Deepdale for over 12 months, but the lack of practice and rustiness didn't show and Nicky Wroe sent Bouzanis the wrong way.
Latics' response was to immediately send on Kirk Millar for Barnard and quickly followed by Matt Smith replacing Reid.
There were chances at both ends as Simpson shot narrowly wide while Preston substitute Graham Cummins forced a fine save from Bouzanis to prevent the hosts from doubling their lead.
Preston sealed victory in the third and final minute of stoppage time with Bouzanis upfield for a corner in a do-or-die attempts to grab an equaliser.
The Lilywhites broke with Hayhurst sprinting clear from his own half closely pursued by Croft who was catching the attacker who, realising he was being tracked, shot into an empty net from 40 yards.
Preston (4-2-3-1): Rudd; Connolly, (Monakana 70), Huntington, Wright, Buchanan; Keane, Welsh; Hayhurst, Wroe (Mousinho 85), Beavon (Cummins 70); King. Subs (not used): Stuckmann, Garner, Procter, Foster.
Latics (4-4-1-1): Bouzanis; K Smith, Byrne (Tarkowski 38), M’voto, Grounds; Croft, Wesolowski, Reid (Smith 77), Baxter; Simpson; Barnard (Millar 74). Subs (not used): Cisak, Brown, Montano, Mellor.
The goals: Wroe (73 pen), Hayhurst (90+3) for Preston.
Bookings: Huntington (11) for Preston. M’voto (12), Baxter (63) for Latics.
Referee: Mr S Mathieson.