Wigan Athletic 1 Fulham 1: Koumas lightens Heskey gloom

Wigan salvage point but striker's return from England duty cut short by metatarsal injury
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The Independent Football

England's joy at rediscovering the qualities of Emile Heskey in their bid to qualify for next summer's European Championship finals may be shortlived. The Wigan striker, who formed such an effective partnership with Michael Owen in the wins over Israel and Russia, limped out of this game amid fears that he had broken the fifth metatarsal in his right foot.

Heskey suffered the injury when he landed awkwardly from a jump and was substituted after only nine minutes. A Wigan spokesman said last night that an initial scan at a local hospital had proved inconclusive but they expected a second, more detailed, examination to confirm the break, and predicted an absence of six to eight weeks for the player.

"Emile has gone to a second hospital for further scans butwe expect they will confirm a fracture to the fifth metatarsal, and if that is the case he will undergo an operation on Sunday morning," the spokesman said.

The injury looks certain to keep him out of England's Euro 2008 qualifiers against Estonia at Wembley and Russia in Moscow next month.

The injury brought further disruption to a Wigan side who had already needed to be reshaped following the loss of injured midfielders Antonio Valencia and Denny Landzaat and the suspension of Kevin Kilbane. The effects were visible in a performance that did not compare with the slick display against Sunderland last month, in which both Heskey and Landzaat scored in an impressive 3-0 win.

This time, Wigan conceded a goal after 11 minutes and were rarely able to threaten a response, their so-far unbeaten home record rescued only when Fulham undid their good work by giving away a penalty 10 minutes from the end, from which Jason Koumas scored.

Clint Dempsey, whose third goal of the season had given Fulham their advantage, could have scored a couple more and his manager, Lawrie Sanchez, was left to lament the American's misses when Hameur Bouazza brought down Mario Melchiot to hand Wigan their lifeline. "For almost 80 minutes it was almost the perfect away performance, but when you miss chances to kill the game you know you'll regret it," Sanchez said.

Heskey's withdrawal gave Marcus Bent a chance to establish himself, but he had barely had a touch when Fulham scored. The goal came when a ball was played from the right towards Diomansy Kamara in the centre. Paul Scharner challenged the Senegalese striker but the ball ran to Dempsey, who swept it left-footed past Chris Kirkland. With Aaron Hughes making his debut in central defence, Fulham looked solid at the back and should have put themselves out of reach during the first 14 minutes of the second half. Kirkland batted away a dangerous free-kick before Dempsey squandered two clear chances. He was denied by Kirkland after he and Kamara had broken clear and skewed the ball wide in trying to deflect Alexei Smertin's shot into the net.

Wigan's penalty resulted from a move in which Michael Brown played a clever pass into the box for Melchiot, who was brought down by Bouazza's tackle from behind. Scharner might have won the game had he made better contact with Emmerson Boyce's 89th-minute cross, but it would have made for an undeserved outcome.

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