You can’t really argue with going away and getting a point at a good Wigan side even though the usual suspects will try and do so.
It was a pretty, end-to-end, lively encounter but it was kind of typical of the way that Roy has set us up away from home. Compact, a little narrow in midfield, full of hard work and difficult to break down. There does seem to be more of an emphasis on runners from midfield at home and perhaps a nagging doubt over whether we kind enough people forward to finish off some of our more incisive breaks.
Perhaps the most encouraging thing about this performance was I can’t remember the last time this season we created so many good chances away from home. Most of our points on the road have been grafting efforts, backs-to-the-wall defensive jobs that have seen our midfield sitting deeper and deeper to soak up the pressure. Yesterday, we dictated the play, had plenty of possession and made a few really decent openings. It is a testament to how well Wigan have done under Steve Bruce this year that I’m not bemoaning our inability to nick a winner.
Last week’s boo-boy Bobby Zamora was an awful lot better this time round. He was at the heart of everything that was good about our forward play and obviously just needs a little bit of luck in front of goal. Had that brilliant early turn and shot across goal gone in he would have been feted as a hero and we might have gone on to get two or three more. I’m in the camp that would tell you his missed header was more of an instinctive reaction as the ball flashed across the box from Hangeland’s flick-on than a horrible miss – he simply didn’t have any time to react other than to let the ball hit him. Like I said, all he needs is a bit of luck.
I’d go as far as making Zamora our man of the match yesterday. There really has to be a special mention for Olivier Dacourt, who – though clearly still sort of match fitness – turned in a lovely little cameo in the second half. His unquestionable quality does provide us with an immediate (or almost immediate once he recovers some real sharpness) remedy for Etuhu’s limitations in central midfield. You don’t suddenly become a bad player because you’re a couple of years older: just ask Danny Murphy. He played a couple of delicious raking passes that first Johnson and then Nevland could have done a little better with. If he’s fit for Swansea, maybe we’ll have a little more quality in central midfield.
I was worried towards the end that we might surrender the initiative or concede a late goal but the defence held firm. That’s the major positive from this performance. We might have looked a little toothless once Bobby went off, but Wigan really struggled to get in behind us and I can’t remember them having too many clear cut opportunities. All credit to the back four, who once again were outstanding. These away points are now creating a nice buffer between us and the sides involved in the relegation scrap – especially with all of the bottom four losing.
There’s plenty to like about Roy’s attitude in the BBC interview after the game as well. The very idea that we might be resting on our laurels after reaching 30 points is disspelled as you get the impression that Roy was rather chastened by our failure to take all three points back to London.
In the circumstances I reflect on it being two points dropped rather than a point gained.
Before the match a point would have been a good day’s work, but the way we played, we dominated possession and constantly threatened behind them. We just weren’t able to get that elusive goal.
I can’t criticise the performance, I can just bemoan the fact that you want a good performance to give you three points rather than one.
WIGAN ATHLETIC (4-4-2): Kirkland; Melchiot, Figueroa, Bramble, Scharner; Valencia (Watson 18), Brown (Koumas 19), Cattermole, N’Zogbia; Mido (Zaki 42), Roadallega. Subs (not used): Pollitt, Edman, Boyce, De Ridder.
FULHAM (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Konchesky, Hughes, Hangeland; Etuhu (Dacourt 45), Murphy, Dempsey (Gera 90), Davies; A. Johnson, Zamora (Nevland 75). Subs (not used): Zuberbuhler, Gray, Stoor, Kallio.
BOOKED: Dempsey, Pantsil.
REFEREE: Lee Probert (Wiltshire).