It took a moment of fantastically funny showmanship to light up what was not the most appealing opening to a Premier League fixture this season.
Steve Sidwell, while attempting to dispossess Ben Watson in midfield, got his tackle tangled with Lee Probert – an unwitting bystander – and upended the referee. Probert performed a roll of Sergio Busquets proportions before receiving treatment and jokingly brandishing a red card to the accidental aggressor.
The comedic interlude to what had been a game played at a rather lethargic pace in the Lancashire sunshine served to brighten the visitors in front of a relatively busy DW Stadium, following a “buy one get one free” offer – though the home fans ended up wishing that Hugo Rodallega had not turned up.
On his return since a summer departure to pastures new, Rodallega’s first few touches had been tepidly booed but the jeers lacked real conviction for a striker who had so often conjured brilliance for Roberto Martinez’s side. And when he opened the scoring and refused to celebrate, the Wigan supporters chose to applaud his decency. Dimitar Berbatov, drifting wide, was allowed to swing a centre over, and Rodallega met it with a thundering header past the goalkeeper. In doing so, the Colombian became only the second player to score 15 Premier League goals inside this ground – the other being Henri Camara – but it was not the way the Latics would have envisaged him equalling that record when he last found the net here in January.
Martin Jol, said he “knew that Rodallega would be motivated to do something nice and that is exactly what he did”, and on the face of it, there seemed to be little Wigan anger at the former player coming back to haunt them, but the natives were restless. The frustration was aimed at their own players. The disapproval forced Wigan to rally, but they missed good chances and Jordi Gomez hit the crossbar.
This fixture has been a stable source of away points for Fulham. They are now unbeaten here in seven, albeit five of those were draws, but the results provide comfort for a team who are notorious strugglers on the road.
“Last year we had four wins and five draws away from home. That is not bad but certainly not good,” Jol said. “Five midfielders left the club – a couple of them I wanted to keep. I was so satisfied for Sidwell and [Chris] Baird. They didn’t play over the last couple of months because we had a different midfield with [Mahamadou] Diarra and Moussa Dembele.”
It still has been a reasonably good start to the season for Martinez, but the absence of Franco Di Santo from the squad shone a light on the threadbare squad in an attacking sense. Mauro Boselli was the only striking option, thrown on with half an hour to play. The Argentine’s glaring miss from six yards moments after being introduced summed up their problems when the top scorer is absent.
“Overall, we didn’t deserve to lose,” Martinez said. “We had the better chances, but you need to score goals. Our performances need to be more solid. Since the international break we have lost a bit of focus.”
Martinez is already looking for attacking options to target in January, but his public admiration of Crystal Palace forward Wilfried Zaha has angered the Eagles’ chairman Steve Parish, who took to Twitter to lambast the Wigan boss. They continue to monitor the player, and lacked his sort of pace in behind against a stubborn Fulham back four. “Having nicked Victor [Moses] due to administration, then selling for £9 million Roberto would like it ever so much if we would roll over,” Parish said. “I guess he’ll just try to unsettle our player using the papers.”
Damien Duff showed Boselli how it was done, converting Bryan Ruiz’s assist on the counter. Kone’s turn and spin in the dying minutes almost summoned a late comeback but it could not spoil Fulham’s best start to a campaign since 2002.
Wigan (3-4-2-1): Al Habsi; Ramis, Caldwell (Miyaichi, 79), Figueroa; Boyce (McManaman, 79); Watson, McCarthy, Beausejour; Gomez (Boselli, 62), Maloney; Kone.
Fulham (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Riether, Hughes, Hangeland, Riise; Duff, Baird, Sidwell, Kacaniklic (Ruiz, 59); Rodallega (Briggs, 88), Berbatov.
Referee: Lee Probert
Man of the match: Rodallega (Fulham)
Match rating: 7/10