Wembley dream alive for Latics
Lee Johnson praised the spirit shown by his players as Latics overcame adversity to win 2-0 at Preston North End and march into the northern area quarter finals of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
Latics' manager later revealed the extent of the injury troubles which made the triumph by his patched-up side at Deepdale even more remarkable.
Goals by Danny Philliskirk after only 15 seconds and James Wesolowski in the ninth minute took Latics one step closer to a Wembley appearance.
Johnson explained: "It was important we made a good start because we didn't half have some walking wounded. We nearly had to make three substitutions in the warm up.
"The character shone through and in the first 30 minutes we were brilliant. We needed to start like that because at the end of the game we knew we would have to hang in there.
"In the first half we showed great quality, but in the second it was good character building as a group to come through adversity."
* James Tarkowski has been ill, got out of his sickbed to play and was running on empty minutes into the match.
* Joseph Mills had a tight calf and golf ball sized lump in that area of his leg.
* Korey Smith pulled his thigh in the warm up.
* Genseric Kusunga came off in the second half with a tight hamstring.
Johnson continued: "It was a great day for the boys and some of them became men tonight. And to keep a clean sheet (the first of the season) was nice.
"We are through to the northern quarter finals and the Wembley dream is alive."
Latics made three changes from Saturday, Matteo Lanzoni enforced through injury. Mark Oxley and Charlie MacDonald stepped down to the bench as Paul Rachubka was handed a first start for Latics while Sidney Schmeltz won a recall.
Johnson's dilemma was at right back where Lanzoni, Carl Winchester and Connor Brown were all unavailable.
Kusunga took over the problem spot while Jonathan Grounds stepped back inside to centre back and Mills from midfield to left back in a rejigged back line.
Latics could not have dreamed of a better start as they went ahead after only 15 seconds when Sidney Schmeltz released Joseph Mills who fired over a low cross from the left for Philliskirk to fire home almost in slow motion as he wrong-footed keeper Thorsten Stuckmann, one of eight changes in the Preston starting line up from last Saturday.
It was Philliskirk's third goal for the club and, remarkably, all three have been scored in the JPT following his brace at Shrewsbury Town in the first round.
Much-changed Preston were literally blown away as Wesolowski doubled the lead in the ninth minute with a spectacular drive into the top corner from James Dayton's cut back.
Indeed, Latics could have scored even more goals early doors as Stuckmann made decent saves to keep out a free kick from Mills and drive from Schmeltz while Stuckmann's goalline clearance prevented an embarrassing own goal.
Latics enjoyed a remarkable 81-per-cent of possession in the opening half hour as Preston did not know what had hit them.
The unwell Tarkowski was forced off at the break as he was replaced by David Mellor who was free to play after completing a three-match ban.
Latics remained largely in charge until midway through the second period when their many problems resulted in them running out of steam as Preston seized control.
In the last quarter of the match, Preston had six great chances to find the net.
Substitute Stuart Beavon headed straight at Rachubka who was then beaten to a corner only to see Mills comes to the rescue with a vital goalline clearance from Tom Clarke's header which was looping into the net.
Joe Garner had three great chances in a seven-minute spell as he shot agonisingly wide after a neat turn, pulled an effort wide and rolled another wide.
Scott Laird also broke clear on the left, cut inside only to see his weak shot easily saved by Rachubka.
Latics still enjoyed overall possession of 60-per-cent which for an away side is impressive as they took a second step toward Wembley in the competition.
Preston (3-5-2): Stuckmann; Laird, Huntington, Mousinho (Clarke 46); Nicholson, Welsh, Croasdale (Beavon 46), Wroe (Brownhill 76); Holmes, Garner. Subs (not used): Byrom, Rudd.
Latics (4-4-2): Rachubka; Kusinga (Belezika 74), Tarkowski (Mellor 46), Grounds, Mills (Montano 83); Dayton, Smith, Wesolowski, Schmeltz; Philliskirk, Rooney. Subs (not used): Oxley, MacDonald.
The goals: Philliskirk (13 sec), Wesolowski (9).
Bookings: Mills (56), Kusunga (65) for Latics.
Referee: Mr O Langford.
Attendance: 5,987 (827 visitors).