A stubborn Wigan side put Fulham to the sword as a two goal lead before half time never looked under threat.
A young and inexperienced Fulham side lined up in a standard 4-4-2, Brister and Pritchard patrolling the middle accompanied by 17 year old Frei, who’s made a good impression in his first team cameos, on the right and ex-Liveprool youngster Alex Kacaniklic on the left and they took a first minute lead, Kacaniklic sweeping home from the edge of the box. It was short lived however as Steven Boothman was tripped in the box allowing the visiting captain Redmond to tuck the ball away from the penalty spot.
The opening exchanges thereafter were fairly tight. Wigan played a very wide front three and were causing problems, particuarly down their left, but it was Dalla Valle with the next best opportunity; Kacaniklic putting in a good cross from the byline before the Fin headed over from a promising position, but slowly the visitors started to turn the screw and began to dominate possession. The three central midfielders were controlling the play against the two Fulham men in the middle, Frei and the forwards were barely in the game and the passing was hurried under the impressive closing down. Eventually the Wigan possession told, a good move ending with Jordan Rugg finding a yard, controlling the pass and bending the ball in around keeper Casper Somogyi in what was a very neat finish from 18 yards.
Alex Smith’s lung busting runs from left back were Wigan’s main cause of problems, and another good cross from the byline found only a Wigan defender, but it was still the Latics who were dominating and a second wasn’t long in coming. The right side of the Fulham defence looked exposed all evening so it wasn’t a surprise too see their third and Rugg’s second originate from a left-sided cross, a quality ball in from Boothman. The remaining minutes to half time were on the whole quiet, Wigan comfortable with their lead and Fulham slightly shell shocked, but there was still a golden chance for the home side to halve the deficit when a clipped ball over the defence was controlled by Trotta who’s strike at goal was smothered by Nicholls in goal. A decent save, but Trotta should have scored from a position like that; one on one, in control of the ball and in space for a clean strike.
Fulham’s struggle with an impressive Wigan side called for a dramatic change at half time and Reserve manager Billy McKinlay acted on it, changing to a 4-2-3-1 formation with Dalla Valle leading the front line, Trotta on the left and Kacaniklic on the right with Frei supporting in a second striker role. Pritchard, Brister and the back five remained as they were. The change was extremely effecgtive as Fulham took the upper hand for almost the entirety of the second half. Wigan were struggling to get out of their own side of the pitch, but despite the dominance of the White’s possession the visitors were incredibly organised and working extremely hard, keeping chances at a premium.
Infact it was probably Wigan who looked more likely to score with their two wide plays looking very quick and dangerous on the break, Dicko with one chance in particular as he beat two defenders but widely blazed the ball over the bar from a promising position inside the box. Fulham kept probing however, and their bigger players were having more of an influence. Frei with a freer role was demonstrating the low balance, quick feet, close control and burst of pace that has excited almost everyone to see him play, and Smith was playing as a pseudo-winger for most of the second 45.
Despite this, lone striker Dalla Valle didn’t have a sniff of a chance which forced McKinlay’s hand once again, summer signing from Luton Cauley Woodrow and right-midfielder-turned-centre-mid Harris replacing the ineffective Trotta and right back Jack Dean who had a torried time against Boothman, forcing a shuffle in midfield where Kacaniklic switching to his more natural left flank and Brister going to right back. Woodrow was certainly a player who looks like a future, with some neat touches and good awareness to make space, so ten minutes later he replaced Dalla Valle upfront, who went off for right winger Bettache. Up there, he demonstrated good hold up play, a decent touch and a powerful shot when he turned and fired from 25 yards which fizzed just over the bar.
The pattern of play continued, Fulham comfortable in possession but very little cutting edge and Wigan always looking a danger on the counter attack. It wasn’t until the dying moments until the home side threatened a goal as Frei in the space of a couple of minutes twice got behind the Wigan defence, the only couple of times a Fulham player did in the second half, and drove two dangerous balls into the box but as with most of their attacks in the game it was easily dealt with. As the final whistle blew, Fulham would have been regretting another disappointing performance from the development squad; the talent is there to perform better though and the inexperience of some of the players, four under 18s played in the game, was clear to see sometimes so any game time against good, well coached opposition like Wigan will help further their development.
Check back in tomorrow for a detailed report on my impressions on the team and the players.
FULHAM RESERVES: Somogyi; Dean (Harris 65), Passley, Arthurworrey, Smith; Frei, Brister, Pritchard, Kacaniklic; Trotta (Woodrow 65), Dalla Valle (Bettache 77).
WIGAN ATHLETIC RESERVES: Nicholls; Buxton, McCormack, Kiernan, Mustoe, Chow, Breeze, Boothman, Rugg, Dicko, Redmond. Subs: Hare, Myler, Dawson, Robinson, Morris.