Steed Malbranque’s strike on the stroke of half time secured Fulham’s Premiership status for next season after the Whites rather rode their luck to beat Wigan at Craven Cottage.
The French midfielder curled an excellent finish around Mike Pollitt after being picked out by a brilliant pass from Luis Boa Morte, but Wigan totally dominated the contest and Paul Jewell was left to ruing his side’s lack of ruthlessness in front of goal. Malbranque might have tested Pollitt from distance with the game’s first chance, but the visitors played the more accomplished football and squandered a hosts of opportunities.
Antti Niemi was forced to make a fine low save to from Gary Teale after Scottish winger had got away from Wayne Bridge and Ian Pearce. Teale than provided a great cross from Jason Roberts but the striker headed just wide. Jimmy Bullard was becoming more prominent in the Wigan midfield and quick created two chances for Lee McCulloch, who headed the first one wide and then could only nod straight at the Fulham goalkeeper.
Teale was posing Bridge real problems down the right flank and might feel he should have done better than shoot wildly across goal after getting after the England international again ten minutes before half time. Henri Camara also screwed wastefully wide after good hold up play from Roberts offered him space inside the Fulham area and the visitors were hit with the classic sucker punch just before the break as Malbranque undeservedly opened the scoring.
Heidar Helguson nearly doubled Fulham’s lead just after half time but Pollitt just about scrambled the Icelandic international’s finish around the post. Wigan kept up the pressure with Bullard trying his luck from distance and Matt Jackson nodding into the Fulham goalkeeper’s arms from corner. Niemi produced an excellent save to keep out another snapshot from Bullard as space opened up on the edge of the box and Camara fired way over the bar after being found by Roberts just inside the area. When Roberts did find the net, Rob Styles ruled the goal out after Wigan had taken a free kick too quickly.
Malbranque almost grabbed a second from long-range with a rasping effort that Pollitt did well to tip away but that was very much isolated Fulham break. Wigan put the home goal under siege and should have secured a point in stoppage time. Pascal Chimbonda’s cross found David Connolly and his miscued shot fell kindly for Camara, who lashed a close range finish into the side netting.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Niemi; Rosenior, Bridge, Pearce, Knight; Elliott (Christanval 85), Diop, Malbranque, Boa Morte; McBride, Helguson (Radzinski 72). Subs (not used): Crossley, Volz, John.
BOOKED: Diop, Boa Morte, Radzinski, McBride.
GOAL: Malbranque (45).
WIGAN ATHLETIC (4-4-2): Pollitt; Chimbonda, Jackson, Henchoz, Baines; Teale (Connolly 87), Bullard, Kavanagh, McCulloch; Camara, Roberts. Subs (not used): Johansson, Wright, Ziegler, Thompson.
BOOKED: McCulloch, Chimbonda.
REFEREE: Rob Styles (Hampshire).
Ref: R Styles (Hampshire).