We suspected in our match preview that this would be battle of the strikers, so the sight of Franco Di Santo in a suit on the sidelines was a damning one. Fulham’s expertly taken goals stood in sharp contrast to a handful of clear opportunities Latics squandered before Arouna Koné halved the margin in stoppage time.
In fairness, Roberto’s men were a bit unlucky. Jordi Gomez hit the crossbar with a vicious left-footed strike, Ivan Ramis had a header tipped onto the bar by Mark Schwarzer, who always reserves his best for the DW. Arouna Koné latched onto a quick-thinking through ball from Shaun Maloney but took a heavy touch and lost the chance. Mauro Boselli was presented with a golden opportunity after good work from James McCarthy, but dinked wide. El que no los hace los ve hacer. If you don’t take your chances, you’ll watch them being taken. Just as Latics seemed to be turning the screw, Bryan Ruiz somehow managed to hold on to the ball at the top of the box long enough for Damien Duff to find space, take a touch and effectively seal the three points with a clinical strike. Despite the introductions of Callum McManaman and Ryo Miyaichi, both positive and adventurous, it took Latics just too long to get one back.
Hugo Rodallega has rightly been praised for his muted celebrations, after he finished off a Dimitar Berbatov floater in the first half. The Colombian was energetic throughout, while the Bulgarian oozed class. Latics’ overall performance could be summed up as inconsistent — the passing at times sloppy and unambitious, at others incisive and sharp. Ben Watson, handed a rare start to allow McArthur time to heal from his ongoing back problems, exemplified this. His range and quality of passing is excellent. But he also gives the ball away and offers less steel. He created some of the best openings but frustrated at times too.
Speaking of steel, Antolin Alcaraz has been sorely missed. Ivan Ramis shows all signs of being an excellent long-term signing for the club, but the understanding developed between the Alcaraz-Caldwell-Figueroa axis took years to build. The Paraguayan’s absence has coincided with two of the softest defensive performances since January of this year. There has been a lack of intensity in the past couple matches. Roberto has acknowledged as much, and one suspects that the return of the tireless McArthur, Di Santo — and hopefully Alcaraz — will correct that.
All in all, a bit unfortunate. The Lee Probert sandwich was a highlight. But it’s time to get some more points on the board.
Ali Al-Habsi: 7.5 — Back to form after a troubled second half at Old Trafford. Made some good saves.
Ivan Ramis: 6 — A welcome aerial threat on set pieces. Defense was wobbly throughout, though.
Gary Caldwell: 5 — An off-day for the normally reliable captain. Out-jumped by Rodallega for the first goal. Subbed off in the second half.
Maynor Figueroa: 6 — Quiet in possession and attacking thrust. Duff was unmarked for the second goal.
Emmerson Boyce: 6 — Wasn’t used much on the right, although he is clearly a target for far-post crosses from the left. Missed one such opportunity in the first half, heading wide.
Jean Beausejour: 6 — Got into decent positions and floated a few useful crosses into the box, though some of them felt more hopeful than purposeful.
Ben Watson: 6 — At times incisive and inventive, but also wasteful. Why was he taking a direct free-kick when Maloney and Jordi were standing next to him?
James McCarthy: 7.5 — Had a good game, unlucky not to have played a big part in an equalizing goal after Schwarzer saved his second half effort, only for Boselli to missed the tap in.
Shaun Maloney: 7 — As ever, Latics most inventive player. Played a fantastic through-ball to Koné when it was still 1-0 that would have evened things up.
Jordi Gomez: 6.5 — Unlucky to hit the post with a fabulous effort, he does drift into goalscoring positions, but also sometimes slows down attacks but turns backwards or sideways.
Arouna Koné: 6.5 — Took his goal well, and showed on a couple occasions the tremendous burst of pace he possesses. Looks a good signing. Shame he couldn’t finish his one-on-one.
Mauro Boselli: Only had one chance, but missed it unfortunately.
Callum McManaman: Positive, ran at people and played his part in the goal.
Ryo Miyaichi: Saw a lot of the ball in his minutes on the pitch. His final pass needs refining but bags of potential.