Wry wit is a field in which Fulham supporters excel. Take for example a mate of mine who’s T-shirt has the proud announcement: “I saw Fulham win away!” This of course is hyperbole, for last season we were relatively successful away, (compared that is with the abysmal away form of the preceding two years,) clocking up all of three premier league away wins. Even so, Fulham away victories remain a somewhat rare vintage to be savoured. However for those stalwart Fulham supporters present at this game our enjoyment at the victory was tempered with very considerable relief and some continuing concern.
Fulham’s set-up was again retuned by manager Martin Jol for this game. The team started with a 4-5-1 deployment, which quickly settled into a 4-2-3-1, with Bobby Zamora as the man up-front, and immediately behind him Andy Johnson positioned over to the right -playing much more like an orthodox right winger than in his recent games, Clint Dempsey favouring the left side, and Mousa Dembele working more centrally. Danny Murphy and Steve Sidwell, (as the “2”), both operated as midfielders with a ‘hold and supply’ brief. J. Riise (left back in the back 4) continually made ineffectual attempts to supplement their efforts in midfield with his unsuccessful sorties down the left wing.
No doubt Martin Jol’s laudable intention with this adjusted set-up was to produce the more creative and attacking approach required to end Fulham’s propensity to draw games. However, most regrettably, it quickly became evident that this strategy was just not working. Throughout the game Fulham were unable to effectively retain possession, and failed to facilitate the creation of scoring chances. In contrast Wigan’s anticipated 4-3-3 operated functionally, in as much as it gave them much more of the play, and also produced greater opportunities for them to win. (The match stats are very revealing. Wigan enjoyed 62% of possession, to Fulham’s 38%; had 18 goal attempts on goal of which 9 were on target, to Fulham’s 7 attempts with 2 on target; and had 9 corners, to Fulham’s nil).
Fulham’s victory, secured despite an apparently flawed strategy and wholly against the run of play, can be put down to the following three vital factors. First, thankfully Wigan’s forwards were generally imprecise and wasteful finishers. (One of my abiding memories of the game is that of Gary Caldwell punching the ground with frustration, after heading over the bar from three yards out.) Secondly, Mark Schwarzer in goal was faultless throughout, and made three particularly accomplished saves. Thirdly, although Fulham had only a couple of goal scoring attempts on target in this game, both of these resulted in goals, and each was at a telling point in the game. Fulham’s goals were due to brilliant opportunism, and the skill of the players involved, but they also resulted from clear errors on the part of Wigan the defence.
Fulham’s first goal was scored just under five minutes from half time. Danny Murphy placed a long through pass to Bobby Zamora who had drifted unmarked into space on the left hand side of the Wigan penalty area. In a flash Zamora received, turned, took the ball forward three paces to the dead-ball line, and then pulled back a short reverse pass to Clint Dempsey who had cut in from the left to close in front of goal. Dempsey tapped-in past the helpless Wigan keeper Al Habsi. This whole exercise must have taken a minute, possibly less, to execute from the moment Danny Murphy spotted the unmarked Zamora and picked his pass.
The second goal came five minutes for the end of normal time, which in the event was ten minutes from the final whistle. Mousa Dembele received the ball from Danny Murphy and made a jinking run, which took him from the centre circle to the edge of the penalty box. The Wigan defenders stood off, seemingly waiting for Dembele to either pass, or attempt to dribble his way past them. Instead he slotted a calculated slow low strike past the goalkeeper, just like an expert billiards player placing a long shot into the far pocket.
Martin Jol is too perceptive a manager not to realise that fortune undoubtedly favoured Fulham in this game. It is to be hoped he will have learned important lessons which will help in his continuing endeavours to improve the team’s performance. Not least I trust he will have noted the following. First, an in-form Andy Johnson is wasted on the right wing, and should be used more centrally. Secondly that Riise, although he remains a consummate professional, has lost a yard in pace since the days of his peak with Liverpool. Surely Briggs (now age 20, and who is naturally left-sided and really quick,) deserves his chance as starting left back/wingback in Premiership games. Thirdly, that Kasami (aged 19 and another outstanding prospect) could contribute both much needed dynamism and help balance the midfield, augmenting the excellent work of Danny Murphy and Steve Sidwell. Fourthly, that reverting to 4-4-2 / 4-4-1-1 might well be a jolly good idea for our forthcoming home game against Spurs.
All in all it was a very good weekend. Chelsea lost; QPR lost; and Fulham won away, and maybe we have learnt some important lessons for the future. This away win ends a run of 5 draws by Fulham at Wigan in previous seasons – a habit which had it continued any longer might well have become a time honoured tradition. Clint Dempsey’s goal now makes him the highest scoring American in the history of the premiership, (surpassing Brian McBride). Reflecting on all these feats and on the manner of the victory, I am reminded of the catch phrase of the popular comedian and late Fulham Chairman Tommy Trinder: “You Lucky People”.
Wigan: Caldwell. Fulham: Gygera, Hangeland, Etuhu, Dembele.
Attendance: 15,796. (Wigan’s estimate of away supporters 450.)
Wigan: Al Habsi; Boyce (Stam 71min); Alcaraz; Caldwell; Figueroa; Watson; Diame (McAuthur 13 min); Moses; Jones; Crusat; Santo; Rodallega.
Fulham: Schwarzer; Grygera; Baird; Hangeland; Riise; Johnson; Murphy (Etuhu 70 min); Sidwell; Dembele (Duff 90 min); Dempsey; Zamora (Ruiz 81 min).
By Josephus at D W Stadium