Clint Dempsey rescued a point for managerless Fulham with a late equaliser against Wigan at Craven Cottage.
The home side seemed to respond well to the sacking of Lawrie Sanchez’s after last weekend’s limp performance against Newcastle United and perhaps should not have given their fellow strugglers the opportunity to go in front. Fulham’s former manager Ray Lewington, in temporary charge until the Fulham board appoint a successor to Sanchez, made a point afterwards of emphasising that he had tried to get the team to try a different style this week. Gone was the direct approach Sanchez had employed and it was welcome back to the more traditional and easy-on-the-eye passing game. It wasn’t as glorious or effective as the champagne football that Jean Tigana used to get Fulham into the top flight a few years ago, but you get the sense that shorter, snappier passing would better suit the squad that Lewington currently has at his disposal.
The home side didn’t start like a team who had only won one of their last fifteen matches. Indeed, that barren run seemed inconceivable given the way Fulham tore into the Wigan defence early on. Carlos Bocanegra, always a threat in the opposition box, saw his header bundled off the line by Denny Landzaat, and the bright Dempsey did well to collect a cross from Danny Murphy and fire goalwards, only for his shot to be deflected over. The home side perhaps should have taken the lead when Hameur Bouazza slipped a clear ball through to Simon Davies but Chris Kirkland did well to save the Welshman’s shot. Almost out of nothing, a long-range thunderbolt from Paul Konchesky cannonned off the crossbar.
Defensive shortcomings have undermined Fulham’s season thus far so they had to be on their guard. Former Fulham midfielder Michael Brown, who didn’t come close to scoring a goal during his stay at Craven Cottage, sent two efforts past the post from the edge of the box as Wigan began to find their feet. A scrappy end to the first half would have pleased Steve Bruce much more than Lewington, who justifiably felt that Fulham had done more than enough to merit a lead.
Fulham couldn’t rediscover their first half fluency, something encapsulated in a tame Dempsey shot after Murphy had sent the American through on goal, and they were soon to pay the penalty. The home side ceded both posession and ground to their visitors and Wigan were encouraged by their greater share of possession. Both Titus Bramble and Landzaat would have felt they might have done better with decent headed opportunities, but the Latics took the lead with twenty minutes on the clock.
Fulham were caught alarmingly square defensively and Kevin Kilbane’s cross was flicked on by the athletic Bramble. Bocanegra let Marcus Bent escape his attentions at the back post and that’s dangerous with the striker in the kind of form that saw him score a hat-trick against Blackburn last week. Bent cushioned the ball with his chest before shooting high into the net from eight yards. It looked as though a different style would produce the same frustrating result for Fulham.
Those writing the home side off reckoned without a spirited finale. Dempsey’s smart free-kick found David Healy in space but the Fulham substitute shot disappointing wide on the stretch. Salvation was merely deferred. It arrived when Dempsey found enough time and space to drive home the equaliser from a Diomansy Kamara cross on 77 minutes. Kamara could have made this an eighth straight away defeat for Wigan late on were it not for a good Kirkland save, although Bruce could point to late chances for Antoine Sibierski and Antonio Valencia at the other end.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Niemi; Omozusi (Baird 60), Konchesky, Hughes, Bocanegra; Davis (Healy 59), Murphy, Davies, Bouazza (Kuqi 72); Dempsey, Kamara. Subs (not used): Warner, Seol.
GOAL: Dempsey (78).
WIGAN ATHLETIC (4-4-2): Kirkland; Boyce, Kilbane, Scharner, Bramble; Landzaat, Brown, Valencia, R. Taylor (Olembe 86); Aghahowa (Sibierski 63), M. Bent. Subs (not used): Pollitt, Granqvist, Skoko.
GOAL: M. Bent (70).
REFEREE: Alan Wiley (Staffordshire).