Fulham 1 Wigan Athletic 0: Malbranque strike fails to hush jeers of Fulham fans

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The Independent Online

It is games like these which may just eventually cost Chris Coleman his job. As strange as that seems after a victory that made it mathematically impossible for Fulham to be relegated, and lifted them to 14th, the sound of the home fans jeering at the interval - seconds after the goal had been scored - will not have gone unnoticed by the club's hierarchy.

It did not go unnoticed by the manager either. Coleman said the reaction was justified. "We were rubbish for 44 minutes," he said. "The best thing that could happen to us was that we were booed off. I hoped and prayed that we would be otherwise we would have been kidding ourselves." He certainly was not disappointed then.

By the end there were cheers, but they were of relief after the substitute David Connolly became the latest Wigan player to miss a wonderful chance, miscueing with the goal beckoning and Antti Niemi stranded. The defeat probably ended hopes of securing European football next season.

"You just got the impression it was one of those nights," said the Wigan manager, Paul Jewell, after watching Niemi save brilliantly in the first half from a low drive by the impressive Gary Teale - who dominated the disappointing Wayne Bridge, being watched here by Tottenham Hotspur's head coach, Martin Jol.

There was also a headed "goal" by Jason Roberts harshly disallowed because a free-kick had been taken too quickly and numerous half-chances for Henri Camara, Lee McCulloch, Teale and Roberts, in particular, who missed with another inviting header. "In golf you would say that from tee to green we were fantastic. But we could not make a putt," Jewell added.

Coleman's concerns may be more immediate. Fulham are considering a wholesale review before significant transfer funds are released this summer. And they are also considering whether Coleman, despite doing such a sterling job, and celebrating three years in charge this week, is the right man to spend that money.

His longevity may also depend on holding on to Luis Boa Morte and Steed Malbranque, who has a year left on his contract. They make the difference to his team. Without them they are less than ordinary. It was, unsurprisingly, those two who combined after a solid half-hour of Wigan pressure for the goal.

From nothing Boa Morte engineered some space and cleverly picked out Malbranque. Surrounded by defenders he nevertheless remained calm and lifted the ball over Mike Pollitt to stun Wigan. Indeed, to stun everyone.

At the end Jewell stood with his hands on his head. He looked bewildered. And had every reason to feel so. "That's football," he said.

It may be a cliché but he was right.

Fulham (4-4-2): Niemi; Rosenior, Pearce, Knight, Bridge; Malbranque, Elliott (Christanval, 85), Diop, Boa Morte; Helguson (Radzinski, 72), McBride. Substitutes not used: Crossley (gk), Volz, John.

Wigan Athletic (4-4-2): Pollitt; Chimbonda, Henchoz, Jackson, Baines; Teale (Connolly, 87), Kavanagh, Bullard, McCulloch; Camara, Roberts. Substitutes not used: Johansson, Wright, Ziegler, Thompson.

Referee: R Styles (Hampshire).

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