Hodgson hails goal-shy Zamora

Wigan Athletic 0 Fulham 0
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The Independent Football

Bobby Zamora is one of those players who is a puzzle to his various clubs – and perhaps, most of all, to himself. Not for the first time, he led the Fulham attack with energy and enterprise at Wigan on Saturday, but could not find the goal that would have got the critics off his back.

That makes it just one goal in 22 Premier League appearances this season, 21 of them in the starting line-up. Damning statistics on the face of it, but his manager, Roy Hodgson, knows that they do not tell the full story.

Hodgson admitted that Zamora had endured a particularly poor match against Portsmouth last week, when he was replaced by Erik Nevland, who proceeded to score the two crucial goals.

"Last week Bobby had a bad time and it was good seeing him today back doing what we need," Hodgson said. "His combination with Andy Johnson was very good and caused them lots of problems. Bobby had a poor game against Portsmouth, but today I thought he played very, very well."

All the former West Ham and Spurs striker needed to put flesh on the bare bones of that assessment was a goal that would have given Fulham the three points they arguably deserved. The closest he came was an early shot well saved by Chris Kirkland and a header over the top from close range in the second half.

He could equally well have contributed to a winner with a whipped-in cross that Johnson was close to forcing home.

That he did not figure in more clear-cut chances had less to do with any lack of effort or impact than with the essential solidity of the Wigan defence.

A settled back four, safely anchored by Paul Scharner and Titus Bramble, does not give much away these days. It was elsewhere on the pitch that Latics fell short of their heightened aspirations and their manager was man enough to take his share of the blame for that.

Steve Bruce, who lost, in Emile Heskey, a striker of his own who has often been criticised for his scoring return, during the transfer window, took a gamble on the fitness of Mido and Antonio Valencia and saw it blow up in his face.

By half-time, those two plus Michael Brown had both needed to be replaced and Bruce had no room for manoeuvre. He was refreshingly candid about making a fundamental error and needing to learn a lesson from it.

"You can't play people half-fit and for that I take responsibility," he said. The upside, if there was one, was that it gave an extended run-out to the newly-signed Ben Watson, who did not look remotely out of place in the Premier League.

Nor did the Colombian, Hugo Rodallega, making his first start up front alongside Mido – whose replacement by Amr Zaki was the first case of a substitution of one Egyptian by another even in such a cosmopolitan competition.

Wigan Athletic (4-4-2): Kirkland; Melchiot, Scharner, Bramble, Figueroa; Valencia (Watson 18), Cattermole, Brown (Koumas 18), N'Zogbia; Rodallega, Mido (Zaki 41).

Substitutes not used: Pollitt (gk), Boyce, Edman, de Ridder.

Fulham (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Pantsil, Hughes, Hangeland, Konchesky; Davies, Etuhu (Dacourt 45), Murphy, Dempsey (Gera 81); Zamora (Nevland 74), Johnson. Substitutes not used: Zuberbuhler (gk), Stoor, Kallio, Gray.

Referee: L Probert.

Booked: Wigan Athletic: Figueroa Fulham: Pantsil, Dempsey.

Man of the Match: Zamora.

Attendance: 16,499.