Towards the end of last season Wigan went on a mind-bending run that saved their bacon. In that run they lost to Fulham, confirming something we’ve long suspected, that we have our historical league-mates’ number.
Usually Clint Dempsey scored the Wigan beating goals, but he’s swapped Martin Jol for Andres Villas Boas, a small pond for a medium sized one, and now we need someone else to beat Wigan.
It’s not going to be a problem, is it? Dimitar Berbatov won’t score twice every game but few teams will shut him out for 90 minutes. Today he made the first, crucial goal, and from there the game was ours.
Before the goal came Berbatov had a practice effort, wandering around the defence before flipping a nice cross onto the head of the surprisingly aerial Rodallega. This one was saved, but the pair had another go soon afterwards. Berbatov, gentler this time, a delicious cross that you’d expect Peter Crouch to put away, but again Rodallega reminded us that timing and spring are everything in attacking headers, up he went, in it went, and Fulham were rightly ahead. Rodallega showed respect for his former employers by not celebrating, which was good of him.
At this point Fulham were rampant, mainly down the right flank where Duff was maintaining his good form. There was no obvious source of our superiority, our players just seemed to be sharper than theirs. Wigan did have a good chance when a first-time shot banged against Mark Schwarzer’s crossbar, but it would’ve been an unjust concession: Fulham deserved to be ahead at half-time.
The second half was always going to be trickier but Wigan didn’t reach top gear until we’d scored again, Ruiz bumbling around in the D (and therefore drawing defenders to him) before feeding a completely free Duff, who scored convincingly.
Do you remember Duff’s Fulham debut? He came on and within seconds had beaten his man on the touchline and made a goal. He looked thrilled. Here was another Roy Hodgson makeover, a great player down on his luck enjoying his football again. He hasn’t really stopped since then and it’s been one of the wonders of modern Fulham that we’ve had a player like this in our team for a decent while now. Duff’s been terrific and while we all know he’s been terrific, perhaps we don’t always appreciate how terrific.
Anyway, that was 2-0. Wigan got one back very late on but Fulham won these three points easily enough. It wasn’t like last week when the midfield absolutely dominated, this was more of a team performance where we were a bit better than them everywhere, and had the nous and opportunity to make the most of our quality. Football doesn’t always reward good performances, particularly away from home, but this is why you sign Dimitar Berbatov isn’t it? Quality in the penalty box makes the difference.