It wasn’t pretty or effective, but Martin Jol will take it. Fulham fashioned their first away league win under their new boss and pulled away from the Premier League relegation zone with a smash and grab raid at the DW Stadium, condemning Wigan to their eighth straight defeat, even though the home side saw the vast majority of the ball and created enough opportunities to win three games.
Roberto Martinez cut a disconsolate figure at the end of a game that his side controlled for long periods and will now face a job to lift his players away from the bottom of the league. They showed plenty of spirit and quality in this contest, however, overcoming a nervy start to pen Fulham back inside their own half and only their profligacy in front of goal prevented the Latics from ending their miserable run. Captain Gary Caldwell contrived to head over from six yards out in the first half and Wigan’s luck was well and truly out in the second period as the impressive Victor Moses and Maynor Figueroa both beat Mark Schwarzer but were denied by the woodwork.
Fulham’s victory was down to good fortune and good organisation. Chris Baird was outstanding at centre back in the absence of Aaron Hughes – reading the play magnificently – and they took the chances that came their way. A lead given to them by Clint Dempsey just before the break might have been unjustified given the balance of play, but it came from an exquisite and speedy counter attack. Danny Murphy sprayed a glorious crossfield pass over a static Wigan defence, Bobby Zamora sprinted into the penalty area and unselfishly squared for Clint Dempsey, who finished from close range.
Jol’s team was unchanged from the late defeat by Everton last weekend, but the formation was markedly different. Andy Johnson might have retained his place, but he didn’t partner Zamora, instead operating as the right-sided attacker in the trio of advanced midfielders supporting the lone striker. Johnson sacrificed his attacking instincts for the good of side, getting through a good deal of defensive work as Fulham were largely focused on shutting down space and quietening the likes of Moses, although he might have done better on the two occasions he had a glimpse of goal. In the first half, found by a brilliant turn and pass from Zamora, Johnson fired tamely at Ali Al Habsi and, with the clocking ticking down, drilled a chance he made himself into the side netting.
Wigan played plenty of pretty football but struggled for the killer instinct. David Jones, the former Manchester United trainee who spent three years at Wolves before leaving Molineux on a free transfer this summer, showed glimpses of his class as the home midfield, shorn of Mohamed Diame, who limped off early on after being caught by a Steve Sidwell tackle, began to impose themselves. The former England under-21 international saw a crisp volley tipped over by a stretching Schwarzer, before guiding another shot agonisingly past the post. Fulham’s Australian goalkeeper was also extended by Moses when his deflected cross-shot almost crept inside the near post and, as the first half drew to a close, could only watch helplessly as Moses diverted a Ben Watson shot inches wide.
Martinez’s team maintained the momentum in the second half. Moses, who tormented the off-colour John Arne Riise all afternoon, ventured into a more central position and crashed a fabulous shot against the top of the bar. Schwarzer was well beaten and relieved when an offside flag prevented Hugo Rodallega from profiting from the rebound. Six minutes from time, with Wigan still searching for the elusive equaliser, Figueroa shaved the far post with a swerving effort from distance – summing up the home side’s dismal afternoon.
Fulham operated largely on the break soaking up Wigan pressure, with Zamora clipping the top of the crossbar after being freed by another fine lofted pass from Murphy. The visitors seemed content to cling to their slender lead, but Moussa Dembele ended the contest with four minutes to play when he punished some hesitant Wigan defending to sprint into the box and, ignoring the well-placed Dempsey, slide a second past Al Habsi.
WIGAN ATHLETIC (4-5-1): Al Habsi; Boyce (Stam 71), Figueroa, Alcaraz, Caldwell; Watson, Diame (McArthur 13), McCarthy, Moses, Crusat (Di Santo 64); Rodellega. Subs (not used): Pollitt, Maloney, Gomez, Sammon.
BOOKED: Caldwell, Alcaraz.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Schwarzer; Grygera, J.A. Riise, Hangeland; Baird; Murphy (Etuhu 71), Sidwell; Dempsey, Dembele (Duff 90), Johnson; Zamora (Ruiz 81). Subs (not used): Etheridge, Kelly, Briggs, Kasami.
BOOKED: Grygera, Dembele, Hangeland, Etuhu, Duff.
GOALS: Dempsey (42), Dembele (87).
REFEREE: Mike Jones (Chester).