If Slavisa Jokanovic had designed the way he wanted his players to respond to dropping points against Birmingham City and Burton Albion, this wasn’t it he wanted things to turn out. Fulham would have considered an away trip to the DW Stadium – with Wigan second bottom on just two points – an opportunity to make up for two disappointing results, but they failed to make the most of their first half domination and ended up clinging on for a point after Gary Caldwell’s side applied significant pressure after the break.
Most worrying of all for Jokanovic and the travelling supporters was the sterile nature of Fulham’s performance. There was little in the way of a cutting edge up front – with Chris Martin missing the best chance when he mistimed a header after a delightful cross from Jozabed – and Wigan successfully blunted the trio of midfielders that lined up behind the Scottish international forward. Neeskens Kebano provided early energy down left but faded as the match went on, Jozabed showed glimpses of the quality that marked him out in Spanish football last season, but Tom Cairney was largely anonymous on the right – and was replaced by Ryan Tunnicliffe with five minutes to go as Jokanovic sought a more dependable defensive option for the closing stages.
By that point, Wigan had weathered Fulham’s early storm and grown in confidence to such a degree that they held genuine hopes of nicking all three points. The Latics put the visitors goal under sustained pressure in the final quarter with David Button, who had an iffy day in terms of his distribution, being called upon to keep out efforts from Michael Jacobs, Yanic Wildschut and substitute Adam Le Fondre. Fulham mustered little in response – with a late Tunnicliffe surge into the penalty area leading to a cross that was smuggled away from Matt Smith.
This was all in sharp contrast to a strong Fulham start. Kebano, deputising for the injured Floyd Ayite, almost offered the perfect opening when he cut inside and fired a low shot towards goal that was well parried by Adam Bogdan. Fulham enjoyed much more of the possession, but failed to find the crucial ball in the final third, and Wigan had decent opportunities of their own on the break. They seemed to be able to break through down the right almost at will and Will Grigg perhaps should have done better than drive into the side netting after being played through by Jordi Gomez after an impressive Wigan move.
Jacobs almost surprised Button with a rising shot from distance and former Fulham defender almost came back to haunt his former employers on two occasions when a couple of dangerous headers from set plays were scrambled away from danger. Fulham’s quality on the ball was never in doubt and the ever-impressive Ryan Sessegnon began several promising attacks down the left flank, but they struggled to carve open the home defence. Martin, who still looks as if he is trying to play his way into form, spurned the best chance of the afternoon when – as if he was surprised by the quality of Jozabed’s cross from the right – he tamely looped a header towards goal from eight yards out.
Jokanovic cut a frustrated figure on the touch line as Fulham once again failed to break down a stubborn defence. His decision to throw on Smith and Cauley Woodrow in search of a winner midway through the second half was bold, but ultimately seemed to disrupt any sort of rhythm that the Whites had mustered. Only once did the combination link up effectively, but Woodrow couldn’t control a Smith flick on when it reared up in front of him – and the unorthodox 4-4-2 that Fulham adopted suffered from the license afforded to Cairney, who was largely anonymous, allowing him to roam across the midfield.
Fulham couldn’t muster a shot on target throughout an underwhelming second half with an ambitious effort from Woodrow being blocked at source and it was the home side who came the closest to pinching all three points. Wigan’s increased ambition was epitomised by Nathan Byrne’s adventurous wandering forward from right back and Ragnar Sigurdsson arrived just in the nick of time to block a Le Fondre shot before substitute Nick Powell’s fine curling effort was tipped over the bar by Button with a minute left.
WIGAN ATHLETIC (4-5-1): Bogdan; Gilbey (Byrne 31), Warnock, Buxton, Burn; MacDonald, Jordi Gomez (Powell 77), Power, Jacobs, Wildschut; Grigg (Le Fondre 71). Subs (not used): Jaaskelainen, Perkins, Garbutt, Davies.
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Button; Odoi, Sessegnon, Kalas, Sigurdsson; McDonald, Parker; Cairney (Tunncliffe 85), Kebano, Jozabed (Smith 65); Martin (Woodrow 65). Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Malone, Madl, Piazon.
REFEREE: Steve Martin.