Neeskens Kebano’s first goal for Fulham will live long in the memory. It seemed as though Slavisa Jokanovic’s side had contrived to administer a devastating blow to their own play-off ambitions by gifting Wigan Athletic a timely win in their own battle against the job but the Congolese winger had other ideas. Fulham, furiously throwing men forward in search of salvation after a long-distance drive from Denis Odoi had drawn them level, patiently worked the Latics defence from side to side until Kebano, hitherto most notable for a dreaful headed miss against QPR, surged onto a perfectly weighted pass from Tom Cairney and steered home a last-gasp winner.
The celebrations were joyous, befitting the smuggling of three points that Fulham had appeared so eager to throw away. Having scored a wonderfully worked opening goal where the mesmerising nature of Sone Aluko’s running down the right was matched by the measured accuracy of Floyd Ayite’s finish, Jokanovic’s side against demonstrated just how porous their defence remains without Tomas Kalas. The on-loan Chelsea centre half was sidelined with a thigh injury and, in his absence, the home side managed to concede two goals in twelve minutes at the end of the first half.
They had already enjoyed an almighty let off when David Button went for a wander out of his goal with Tim Ream under pressure from Omar Bogle and when the lively striker – one of many linked with a move to Craven Cottage over the past six months – robbed Ream of the ball, he would have been slightly disappointed only to find the side netting from an acute angle. Bogle’s disappointment didn’t last long. The former Grimsby forward, who posed real problems for the Fulham back line all afternoon, was the intended target for Stephen Warnock’s floated cross from the left and Bogle’s mere presence prompted Scott Malone to turn the ball into his own net with Button rooted to his line.
Worse was to come before half-time for Fulham, who saw Stefan Johansen’s strong run and cross narrowly elude Chris Martin and Tom Cairney prod an instinctive effort narrowly wide but ultimately wound up going in at the break behind. David Perkins’ pass found Max Power in plenty of room down the left and his low cut back found Michael Jacobs with oceans of room at the far post to simply turn home from a few yards out. People might have scoffed in midweek when Sky pundit Peter Beagrie suggested Fulham’s propensity to concede silly goals would cost them dear, but this ending to a first half they largely dominated proved him right.
Wigan were forced into a goalkeeping change at half time with Matt Gilks replacing Jakob Haugaard, who had sustained a head injury in a nasty clash with Johansen during the first period, but Warren Joyce’s side looked just as dangerous up the other end after the break. Button saved smartly with his feet to deny the lively Bogle after the striker had turned Ream inside out to reach Power’s pass and Joyce’s side were certainly not merely content to protect their advantage.
The visitors were defensively resolute for long periods, belying their lowly status in the Championship table. Aluko saw a shot smuggled away to safety by Gilks after a barnstroming run down the right and when he did beat the substitute keeper with a dipping effort from just outside the penalty area, the Nigerian’s strike clipped the top of the crossbar. Jokanovic then threw on Cyriac, whose pace and clever runs posed a different challenge to the Wigan defenders than Martin, and Kebano in an attempt to enliven Fulham – but the home side’s equaliser came from a particularly unlikely source.
Both Cyriac and Kebano had opportunities to level matters, but the leveller arrived when Johansen worked a free-kick short to Odoi, whose first-time shot from 25 yards rushed through a crowd of legs and seemed to surprise Gilks. The full back, restored to the starting line-up in place of the suspended Ryan Fredericks, celebrated with a backflip almost as eye-catching as remarkable bit of skill against Newcastle on the season’s opening night. Odoi’s goal set up a storming and ridiculously open final 20 minutes, with both sides pushing for a winner.
Button produced an excellent reaction stop to repel a Jacobs’ effort at his near post and an excellent individual run from Callum Connolly almost created an opening for the visitors in stoppage time, but it was Fulham whose persistent probing would eventually be rewarded as the clock ticked down. Substitute Scott Parker found Cairney in space outside the box and the captain’s measured pass saw Kebano gamble and shift the ball inside one defender before finding the far corner with a composed finish in the last minute of added time.
FULHAM (4-1-2-3): Button; Odoi, Malone, Madl, Ream; McDonald (Kebano 57); Cairney, Johansen; Aluko (Parker 80), Ayite; Martin (Cyriac 57). Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Sigurdsson, Sessegnon, Piazon.
GOALS: Ayite (25), Odoi (71), Kebano (90+4).
WIGAN ATHLETIC (4-1-4-1): Haugaard (Gilks 45): Connolly, Warnock, Buxton, Burn; MacDonald; Power, Morsy, Jacobs, Perkins (Hanson 65); Bogle (Grigg 90). Subs (not used): Kellett, Laurent, Browne, Weir.
BOOKED: Burn, Connolly.
GOALS: Malone (o.g. 32), Jacobs (45+2).
REFEREE: David Coote (Nottinghamshire).