Wigan Athletic 0 Fulham 0: Magnificence in short supply as Wigan fall short of billing

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The Independent Online

If only the players had the wit and imagination of Wigan Athletic's promotions department. The Magnificent Seven is how they have billed the final home fixtures of the season, and posters in the programme and on the website carry sepia-tinted promise of plenty.

We should be so lucky. Footballers have a knack of finding the required result if it suits both teams and this match reinforced the point. Both sides are looking over their shoulders, a draw ensured both escaped being rooted deeper in the mire and they achieved that by barely having an attempt at goal. Just one was on target.

There was not a hint of the sort of contrivance that has marred World Cups in the past; the sad thing was that the players were actually trying. With this sort of skirmish the villagers in the original Magnificent Seven would not have needed Yul Brynner, the Milkybar Kid would have been enough.

That usually applies to Fulham, who are the worst travellers in the Premiership, so they will be happy with the point. Wigan, too, had the consolation of edging closer to the 40-point mark that usually denotes safety. It was just the rest of us who went home unhappy.

Paul Jewell, the Wigan manager, described the game as "rubbish", Chris Coleman, his Fulham counterpart said it was "not great". Jewell summed it up perfectly when he added: "It was a case of two sides who were happy to come off the pitch with something."

Caution can do terrible things to a footballer's skills and it showed in almost every touch. Nerves ruled, passes were hurried and when there was a passage of play worthy of the name the players appeared to be running as if they had Kauto Star's weights in their boots.

Wigan's David Unsworth fired a dangerous cross from the left after three minutes and Emile Heskey rose to force a save from Antti Niemi three minutes later, but the match dribbled away from that less than lofty peak so that it left hardly any distinguishing marks.

Heskey had the ball in the net but had been ruled offside several seconds before and Papa Bouba Diop mis-kicked horribly in the 25th minute after Brian McBride had pulled the ball back in Fulham's only significant attack of the match and that was it for the first half. In fact the only talking point was an injury to Caleb Folan, who challenged Franck Queudrue and damaged his ankle. The Wigan striker was carried from the field on a stretcher; the rest of us were just horizontal because we were asleep.

Henri Camara came on as the replacement and, true to the character of the game, he contrived to miss the ripest chance just before the hour. Antonio Valencia had gawped in surprise at colleagues who failed to attack the ball when his low cross dribbled across the six-yard box seconds earlier, but on reflection he might consider it a better fate than what happened to his next attempt. Camara was only three yards out but still managed to chest the ball wide.

Wigan had the bulk of the possession, fired a fusillade of corners and free-kicks into the Fulham area but, Camara's attempt apart, there could hardly have been a performance where so much possession contrived so little threat. Magnificent, it was not.

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