A brilliant free-kick from Neeskens Kebano condemned Wigan Athletic to relegation from the Championship on a tense finale to the Championship season. The Latics fate was in the balance right until the end but the hosts have ultimately gone down after suffering a twelve-point deduction for going into administration, while even a late Fulham winner would not have handed Scott Parker’s side automatic promotion.
Home hopes of staying in the division looked good when Kieffer Moore headed Wigan in front from close range in the first half. But, after another piece of set-piece magic from the rejuvenated Kebano, Wigan wasted a number of good chances to grab the precious three points that would have kept them out of the courtroom and Barnsley’s dramatic win at Griffin Park saw the Tykes take the final survival spot.
This was not a cagey affair, with the need for both sides to pick up a win making for an end-to-end encounter. Serbian striker should have put Fulham in front inside ninety seconds but his usual composure in front of goal deserted him when he fired wildly over from Kebano’s early cross. The Congolese winger looked like the Londoners’ most reliable source of an opening and David Marshall did well to push a powerful drive away to safety.
Sam Morsy and Kal Naismith went close for Wigan, who grew in confidence as they held Fulham at bay throughout an entertaining first half. Welsh international Moore punished some slack defending to head home from a fine Nathan Byrne cross at the back post – and it looked like Paul Cook’s great escape was on.
Fulham responded with a flurry of chances late in the first period with Josh Onomah, Mitrovic and a rampaging Harry Arter all spurning presentable openings. Fulham did eventually draw level with a majestic curling free-kick from a central position by Kebano four minutes after the interval – but they then proved unable to keep up their assault on the Wigan goal. It was the Latics who created the better chances in a gripping conclusion to this pulsating contest.
Centre back Leon Balogun was the guiltiest culprit – contriving to head straight at Marek Rodak when five yards out – while Joe Williams and Naismith almost missed good chances as well. Wigan’s incredible run of form since being deducted points for going into administration – Cook’s charges had lost only one of their final fifteen fixtures – counts for nothing and their hopes of an unlikely reprieve now rest on a legal case mounted by leading barrister David Phillips at the end of the month.
WIGAN ATHLETIC (4-2-3-1): Marshall; Byrne, Robinson, Kipre, Balogun (Garner 90+3); Morsy, Williams (Evans 90+3); Naismith, Lowe, Dowell (Gelhardt 84); Moore. Subs (not used): Evans, Massey, Pearce, Roberts, Jones, Dobre, Mlakar.
BOOKED: Robinson, Williams, Morsy.
GOAL: Moore (32).
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Rodak; Odoi (Kamara 82), Bryan, Hector, Ream; Arter (Johansen 72), Cairney (Christie 82); Knockaert (Decordova-Reid 66), Kebano, Onomah; Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, Mawson, Le Marchand, S. Sessegnon, McDonald.
BOOKED: Odoi, Hector, Onomah, Kebano.
GOAL: Kebano (49).
REFEREE: John Brooks.