Football: Keegan short of a magic wand

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The Independent Online
Kevin Keegan returned to football last week with a five-year plan to take Second Division Fulham into the Premiership. His first day at the office entailed a trip to Wigan, where Dave Hadfield witnessed a less than auspicious beginning for the new regime.

On the day he was meant to start with a blank sheet of paper, Kevin Keegan found Mickey Adams still casting a long shadow.

The name of the manager sacked last week to give the Keegan-Ray Wilkins' new order a clear run was invoked not only by the Fulham supporters who are giving the regime only a cautious welcome, but also by John Deehan, who made sure that Adams was not forgotten.

The Wigan manager revealed that he had phoned the rival with whom he fought such a close promotion battle last season on his way to Saturday's match.

"There are exciting times ahead for Fulham, but I'm sorry for Mickey Adams," he said after his side's 2-1 victory. "I got quite close to him over the 46 matches last season and I know that he's very disappointed and disillusioned with football at the moment.

"No doubt when a job comes available he'll be top of many lists. I hope next time I speak to him he'll sound more up."

Fulham's supporters showed their feelings in two ways; by declining to make the journey to Wigan in the predicted numbers and by grumbling about the treatment of Adams at every opportunity. In a town where Wigan versus Fulham still conjures up another code, all the fervour for Keegan, natural communicator with the public as he is, came from the media presence.

On Saturday, Keegan chose to communicate only with his players - with whom he had a few individual words after Wilkins had delivered the main lecture.

Also in charge of the post-mortem, Wilkins did his best to defuse the inevitable expectation that there is going to be extensive and expensive rebuilding, but what they saw at Springfield Park will have given him and Keegan both plenty to think about.

Their players tried to play the good, passing football that won them promotion on Wigan's coat-tails, but, despite taking the lead through Steve Hayward, they were understandably nervous and lacked obvious candidates for the higher things promised by Keegan and Fulham's wealthy owner, Mohamed Al Fayed.

It is something of a concern when their most creative player is the 38- year-old Glenn Cockerill, who was already playing for Southampton - and 10 years into his professional career - when Keegan's own feats as a player there were still fresh in the memory.

Fulham will be linked with everyone in the highest-priced departments of the transfer market, but what they need is an injection of superior lower-division players, a category that fits Gavin Johnson - scorer of Wigan's equaliser and, despite his baldness, still not 27.

Wigan have ambitions of their own, as evidenced by plans for a new stadium that will hold their average home crowds, plus those of Orrell and Wigan rugby clubs simultaneously; and they, too, have the backing of a multi- millionaire in Dave Whelan.

Their players responded well to an unexpected day in the spotlight and it was well on the cards, long before Colin Greenall's 89th-minute winner, that they were going to spoil Keegan's day. As he knows, clubs are now obliged to take an extra pleasure in doing exactly that.

Goals: Hayward (9) 0-1; Johnson (26) 1-1; Greenall (89) 2-1.

Wigan Athletic (4-4-2): Butler; Green, McGibbon, Greenall, Sharp (Rogers, 63); Lee, Martinez, O'Connell, Johnson; Jones (Saville, 63), Lowe. Substitute not used: Warne.

Fulham (3-5-2): Arendse; Cullip, Morgan, Lawrence; Carpenter, Hayward, McAree (Smith, 59), Cockerill, Herrera; Conroy, Moody (Scott, 87). Substitute not used: Cusack.

Referee: R Furnandiz (Doncaster).

Bookings: Wigan: Green.

Man of the match: Johnson.

Attendance: 4,951.

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