As Fulham's fans made their way into the ground to see their managerless side take on one of the only two teams below them in the Premiership, they spotted a figure of Father Christmas near the entrance. 'Any chance of a win?' one supporter asked. 'I'll see what I can do,' Santa replied. Clearly he had some influence as the home side - now under the temporary charge of Ray Lewington - responded to the previous day's sacking of Lawrie Sanchez to end a run of three successive defeats against a side who performed their own mid-season managerial substitution earlier this month by replacing Chris Hutchings with Birmingham's Steve Bruce.
Lewington, who has been caretaker manager twice before at Craven Cottage, could feel proud of the spirit of his new charges' performance, even if their technical accomplishments were still fitful at best. But the former Fulham midfielder harbours no illusions about the likelihood of being offered the job full-time, even though he has been assured by club chairman Mohamed Al-Fayed - who watched this hectic affair from the stands alongside the FA chairman Brian Barwick - that his name would be in the frame.
While speculation grows about how coincidental was the decision of another former crowd favourite John Collins to resign as manager of Hibernian the day before Sanchez received his cards, Lewington is approaching things philosophically.
"It was reasonably late on Friday morning when I was told that Lawrie would be leaving, and the people concerned were still in the building,' Lewington said. 'I was called into the office and asked to be caretaker on the basis that there would be no promises, and I said I was happy to do it.
"They said they were drawing up a list of people they wanted to have a look at and that my name would be on there. But I'm realistic to know there's a fair chance they will look outside the club for a replacement. I'm OK with that - they've got every right, especially the position we are in right now. They have to get it right.'
A point was less than Lewington had been looking for, but despite the home side's obvious commitment, it was about what they deserved as they needed an equaliser 13 minutes from time by Clint Dempsey after failing to turn a succession of chances into goals.
Wigan had taken the lead in the 69th minute after former Fulham midfielder Michael Brown hooked a home clearance from a corner back into the area. Titus Bramble got a back-header on it and Marcus Bent was allowed free to plunder a goal at the far post.
Al-Fayed, Lewington and many thousands of long-suffering home supporters may have been wondering at that moment why the home defence to have paid closer attention to the man who had scored a hat-trick in Wigan's 5-3 win over Blackburn the previous week.
Eight minutes later, however, the gathering gloom lightened as the hyperactive Dempsey drove home a low shot to equalise after Diomansy Kamara's cross from the left had found him free in the box.
Even then, Fulham might have lost everything had Antonio Valencia profited as he should have done from a clear run on the home goal two minutes from time that ended with him losing possession amid a flurry of defending limbs.
Bruce, who has now seen his side take five points in their last four games, held his head in his hands on the touchline. 'Valencia was commendable for staying on his feet, but it was a big, big chance for us,' he said. 'Still, three weeks ago we were without a hope of getting out of the bottom three. Now we do have hope, and we've got two home games coming up.'
Fulham, meanwhile, have the dubious prospect of a Boxing Day trip to Spurs. Not the ideal fixture for Lewington - but he is determindedly upbeat. 'The most important thing for us today was not to feel sorry for ourselves about what has happened, and I was very pleased with the way the players responded. In terms of spirit and effort we can't complain.'
Those qualities may not be enough for survival, however, which makes the impending January transfer window crucial. You have to doubt whether Lewington will be the man spending any money.Reuse content