Football: Flying Fulham on final canter

Promotion just a single victory away at Keegan's Thames-side pied- a-terre
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Fulham 2 Wigan Athletic 0

Albert 56

Symons 64

Half-time: 0-0 Attendance: 12,140

THE WHITE shirts and dark shorts, an anachronistic stadium in desperate need of renovation, "Escape from Victory" blaring out on the PA, and the anticipated win to go with it. Oh, and Michael Jackson dropping in - not singing, just an addition to those who, this season, have decided belatedly that Fulham are the team to support. It was almost like a home from home, Wembley to Craven Cottage, for Kevin Keegan as a dismal Wigan Athletic, still harbouring play-off aspirations, proved themselves about as abject as Poland.

Mohamed Al Fayed has never been one to shield himself from publicity, and he enjoys springing a surprise. Sometimes an enjoyable one. But it was a somewhat surreal spectacle as the Fulham chairman paraded the beaming American singer, surrounded by his entourage and brandishing a Fulham umbrella, around the ground before the game.

"Wacko Jacko" had apparently arrived in London yesterday morning and is "a friend" of the chairman. You can only imagine what the club's late former chairman, the comedian Tommy Trinder, might have made of it all.

Nobody could have blamed Jackson if he had departed after the first half, which was Bad. Really bad. The second half was no Thriller either, but that won't trouble the faithful who could be celebrating promotion on Tuesday if Gillingham do the decent thing and become Fulham's 14th consecutive victims at home.

According to the England coach and Fulham's chief operating officer, Jackson didn't have much to say much about the game afterwards. "He seemed more interested in an old photograph taken in the 1920s, where the supporters were all wearing the same hats as he had." Keegan added mischievously: "With Mr Fayed, you never know if he was real. There's plenty of Michael Jackson lookalikes you can hire in London. In fact, I don't even know if it was the real Mr Fayed..."

There was no doubting this was the authentic Keegan, whose team did all that was necessary to register the three points that takes them ever closer to an elusive record of 111. "It was not a classic and I thought they'd come here with more ambition," said the man whose team are now at The Elbow, while the others are still at Becher's, with a lot of stumbling, refusing and falling to do before the season is completed.

There is still an atmosphere almost of incredulity as you approach Keegan's weekday Thames-side pied-a-terre. There is none of the throbbing expectation you would expect in the North or London's less desirable football catchment areas at such an achievement. It was only after the second of the goals from Philippe Albert and Kit Symons confirmed a 28th League victory of the season that their supporters truly let rip.

Fulham have prospered not least because Mohamed's millions have been invested in a large squad of players, many of whom are capable of scoring. No fewer than 20 of Fulham's 32-strong squad have found the net this season, which removes the pressure from the strikers Barry Hayles and Geoff Horsfield, neither of whom were at their best yesterday. Keegan attributed that to fatigue. "They've run lots of miles for us this season." Horsfield has scored only one in four games - almost a drought by his standards this year.

As the suspect Wigan rearguard went moonwalking on more than one occasion, it was the defenders, Albert and Symons, who enforced Fulham's almost total domination. The Belgian rose above a congested area to head home Steve Hayward's corner 11 minutes after the interval. Eight minutes later Symons dispatched the ball with a brutally efficient volley after Wigan had failed to clear another Hayward corner. It was the former Manchester City man's 10th goal of the season.

Paul Peschisolido came on to test Roy Carroll in the Wigan goal, and there was an opportunity for another substitute, Simon Morgan, to really ram home Fulham's advantage which went begging. But with 90 points now in the bag it would be churlish to criticise a Fulham display which never had to rise above competent to dispose of Wigan, who perhaps had their minds on their day out at Wembley in the Auto Windscreens final next weekend.

The first half was soporific fare, enlivened only by some buccaneering runs from Hayles at one end and a chance offered to Wigan's Andy Liddell at the other, but the Scottish Under-21 striker fired his shot against a post. The second half was a different matter entirely as Fulham attempts flew towards goal with the regularity of aircraft overhead on the Heathrow flightpath. Keegan himself knows that his men are on the runway, with take off to the First Division imminent.

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