Chimbonda keeps Wigan flying

Wigan Athletic 1 Fulham 0
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The Independent Football

It took Wigan until the second minute of injury time to seal their fifth successive Premiership victory and their seventh in all competitions via the head of their French defender, Pascal Chimbonda, but if they can do that with just one fit striker and an injury list straight out of Casualty, then their red-hot start to the season will be more than a flash in the pan.

Fulham felt hard done by, not only because they had the better of a scrappy but always entertaining game, but because they had a couple of reasonable penalty shouts rejected, one of which might have led to the dismissal of the Wigan goalkeeper, John Filan.

Fulham succumbed, however, in a final five minutes of intense pressure which ended with Chimbonda diving in at the far post to convert Graham Kavanagh's perfectly placed free-kick.

Fulham had raced out of the blocks and, with sharper finishing, might have put the game beyond reach before the interval. Tomasz Radzinski and the lively Steed Malbranque both struck the post from the edge of the box before the Londoners penetrated deeper.

Malbranque cut powerfully in towards the near post, only to see his cross scrambled away and the striker Collins John put a close-range header tamely into the hands of Filan before Wigan were able to bring Henri Camara - isolated up front in the absence of the injured Jason Roberts and David Connolly - into the action.

"I don't like having to play like that, but injuries meant we had no option,'' said the Wigan manager, Paul Jewell.

Camara's pacy runs earned a couple of corners before he skinned his Senegal compatriot, Papa Bouba Diop, down the left and crossed to Ryan Taylor, whose return header narrowly evaded Damien Francis as he slid in at the far post.

But Fulham scarcely had to check their stride and were aggrieved not to earn at least a penalty for their efforts. John outpaced Stéphane Henchoz through the middle and Filan was two yards out of his penalty area when he blocked his shot with what Fulham believed were his hands but the referee decided was his chest.

Filan saved Wigan again as he fell back to catch a cross-cum-shot from Malbranque that was dipping under his crossbar, and Moritz Volz fell dramatically as he cut into the box. He appealed for a penalty but received only a yellow card.

"You can't keep getting major decisions wrong for 45 minutes,'' said the Fulham manager, Chris Coleman. "I spent half-time trying to calm my players down.''

Perhaps he calmed them too much because Fulham went off the boil and Wigan built up steam. Substitute Andreas Johansson twice went close before Camara rounded Tony Warner, only to shoot into the side netting. That seemed to have ended Wigan's impressive run winning run, but Chimbonda had other ideas.