Ellington exposes Fulham's dearth of reserve

Wigan Athletic 1 Fulham 0
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The Independent Football

This was not a shock. Faced with a choice of the First Division leaders, who had won their last six games and had beaten Fulham in this competition and on this ground last season and a Premiership side shot through with reserve players and a lack of commitment outside London, there was only one horse to back.

Even the manner of Wigan's victory had a certain predictability about it. Nathan Ellington, who had scored five times against Premiership opposition and twice against Fulham in last season's run to the quarter-finals of the League Cup, headed home a beautifully-struck cross from Andy Liddle in the 72nd minute to fashion a victory which Fulham's manager, Chris Coleman, thought should have been more emphatic.

Coleman had made nine changes from the side unfortunate not to have beaten Manchester City on Saturday and some of his squad would have been unfamiliar even to inhabitants of the Fulham Palace Road - two of the substitutes were not listed as contracted players on the club's official website.

"The bottom line is we had enough experience and quality in that team to do a lot better than we did. The problem was not selection it was performance," Coleman argued.

He could have pointed out that Facundo Sava shaved John Filan's post or that Andreas Stolcers squandered glaring opportunities in either half or even that his goalkeeper, Mark Crossley, forced a swift reaction save from his opposite number as he went up for a corner in the desperate closing moments. "We were not unlucky. You should not have to rely on goals from your goalkeeper," Coleman said. "If we had been 3-0 losers, we could not have complained."

The decisive moment was probably Filan's save from Stolcers when the Latvian was clean through midway through the second half, a save which was followed by Coleman substituting Malik Buari, who hitherto had been Fulham's most effective provider of crosses.

This should not obscure the fact that Wigan dominated possession, especially through central midfield, where Tony Dinning and Jimmy Bullard impressed, and worked the right flank cleverly but this was not a typical cup upset in which the lower-league team hurls itself at its opponents. It was a measured and at times highly-inventive display. Geoff Horsfield saw a close-range volley wonderfully turned aside by Crossley, while Ellington demonstrated his quality with a high-class, curling shot from distance which flew perhaps a yard wide.

The one disappointment was that so few came to the JJB Stadium to see it - 2,000 fewer than witnessed last year's defeat of Fulham - proving that, despite the club's rapid ascent, Wigan is still a rugby town. One fan said that if the tie had been played at Springfield Park, the ground would have seemed full. True enough, but Wigan have moved on since those days.

Wigan Athletic (4-4-2): Filan; Eaden, Jackson, Breckin, Kennedy; Liddell, Bullard, Dinning, McCulloch; Ellington, Horsfield (Roberts, 73). Substitutes not used: Teale, Mitchell, Flynn, Walsh (gk).

Fulham: (4-4-1-1) Crossley; Leacock, Green, Melville, Djetou; Buari (Boa Morte, 66), Legwinski, Inamoto (Rehman, 57), Pembridge; Stolcers (Pratley, 83); Sava. Substitutes not used: Davis, Beasant (gk).

Referee: A Kaye (Yorkshire).