Tomorrow Wigan Athletic face Martin Jol’s Fulham side at Craven Cottage. The tight stadium, adjoining the Thames, has proved a difficult venue for Latics in the past, with the only win coming in 2006-2007, a goal from Henri Camara proving sufficient for a 1-0 scoreline. Last year, in the middle of Latics’ storming late run, they looked a little stale at Craven Cottage, but went ahead through a cracking shot by Emmerson Boyce. The Cottagers were to fight back and a soft goal in the last five minutes from Philippe Senderos won them the match.
Fulham have since lost key players in Moussa Dembele and Clint Dempsey, who went to Tottenham for big money. Their midfield general and talisman, Danny Murphy, was released at 35 years of age. Blackburn’s gain was Fulham’s loss. In Murphy’s absence they have readjusted their tactical system, bringing in a handful of new signings, some more well known than others. Their high profile signing was Dmitar Berbatov, now 31 years old, who has a formidable record against Wigan with 8 goals in 11 appearances against them. Since their arrival in the Premier League he has tormented Latics as much as any other player. One recalls his precise cross leading to Hugo Rodallega’s headed goal at the DW Stadium in September. That day Rodallega himself did not celebrate his goal in front of his previous fans. However, he is going to be enthusiastic to play against his former club and do further damage tomorrow.
The absence of Arouna Kone on African Nations Cup duty is a major blow for Wigan. The big question is who will replace him. The moment of truth must surely come soon for Mauro Boselli. Limited to a single league start after showing excellent form — and several goals – in the first two league cup ties, his time is surely now. His success relies heavily on the ability of the wingbacks to provide him with the right ammunition. Eighteen-year-old Angelo Henriquez, bright off the bench against Bournemouth, should not be expected to lead the line and like any other young player from a different continent, will take some time to adapt. Another option is Callum McManaman as a second striker, and there is always the possibility of an extra midfielder in the shape of David Jones or Jordi Gomez, a more conservative approach.
Fulham’s success over the past few years has been largely based on their home form, which has been outstanding. However, this season has seen a few cracks develop in the Craven Cottage fortress. They have already lost four Premier League matches at home, including their last to Swansea, after only drawing previously with Southampton. If there is a time for Latics to get a good result at Fulham then surely it must be tomorrow.