Wigan once again showed their early season frailty against a Dimitar Berbatov inspired Fulham on Saturday. The home team failed to capitalise on some golden goalscoring opportunities while making silly mistakes in defence.
Berbatov was a major contributor to Wigan’s downfall, the Bulgarian striker was a constant source of inspiration and creativity for the Cottagers.
Roberto Martinez was forced into making several changes to his expected starting line up with injuries to Franco Di Santo, Antolin Alcaraz and James McArthur which meant starts for Jordi Gomez, Ben Watson and Jean Beausejour. Fulham started with Berbatov and former Wigan striker Hugo Rodallega upfront in a positive move by manager Martin Jol.
The match got off to a slow start and the most entertaining moment came when referee Lee Probert was accidentally tackled by Fulham’s Steve Sidwell and then clattered by Wigan’s Ben Watson, much to the amusement of the crowd.
Latics had the perfect chance to take the lead when Maynor Figueroa played a diagonal cross from the left to Emmerson Boyce at the back post but, the wing back headed into the side netting.
As the half wore on it was Fulham’s two new strikers Rodallega and Berbatov who were posing a threat to Wigan’s back line and it was these two who combined for the opening goal.
Berbatov chipped the ball into the six yard box and Rodallega rose high above Gary Caldwell to head home. It was a simple goal but excellently executed by the pair. The Colombian did not celebrate too extravagantly, showing due respect to his former club.
Jordi Gomez did come close to equalising with the half time break approaching when he got on the end of a cross by Beausejour but his powerful effort crashed against the underside of the cross-bar and the ball bounced away to safety.
The match was finely balanced at half time with Wigan having more possession but Fulham holding a slender lead.
Early in the second half Arouna Kone had a glorious chance to draw the sides level. A slide rule pass by Shaun Maloney put Kone through on goal but the normally clinical Ivorian fired straight at Mark Schwarzer.
James McCarthy had another great opportunity when with only Schwarzer to beat he shot from the edge of the box, the Australian keeper parried the ball into the path of substitute Mauro Boselli but the Argentinean somehow contrived to put the ball wide.
Wigan paid the penalty for the missed opportunities when five minutes later sloppy defending allowed substitute Bryan Ruiz to play in Damien Duff and the Irishman finished clinically from ten years out.
Wigan were totally dominating possession and pressing forward to get a foothold in the game but Fulham inevitably defended in-depth with even Rodallega dropping back to act as an extra defender.
Roberto Martinez brought on forwards Ryo Miyachi and Callum McManaman for Caldwell and Boyce in a desperate attempt to get back into the game, but despite several good attacking runs by McManaman and Miyachi it was only in the 88th minute that Wigan managed to pull a goal back from Kone. The striker took the ball down on his chest and hit a low volley through a crowd of players which beat the despairing dive of Schwarzer.
Wigan had huffed and puffed all afternoon they had dominated possession 64% to Fulham’s 36% and had 19 goal attempts to Fulham’s 13. They had created some great opportunities but failed to finish, whereas Fulham had been more clinical in front of goal.
In Dimitar Berbatov Fulham had the most outstanding talent on the pitch, his deft touches, creative passing and eye for the goal made life very difficult for Wigan. His signing from Manchester United could be one of the bargains of the season. He will score many goals for Fulham this season but he will also contribute by creating numerous opportunities for his colleagues.