Fulham 2 Wigan Athletic 0
“We won’t sit off Fulham in any way, shape or form.”
So said Paul Cook before the match.
The manager’s statement of intent had a degree of credibility in the opening minutes when Latics attacked the home team. But Fulham were soon to take over the running of the game as any initial attempt to play football from Wigan was nullified as they resorted to the hoofball that has been all too typical in away games under Cook’s management. When Latics won the ball they so often gave it back to the home team by launching speculative long balls.
Wigan’s beleaguered defence did well to keep the home team at bay in the first half, despite Fulham’s dominance of possession. The game was goalless at half time, although it had looked like it was going to be a matter of time until Fulham scored. The London team had had twelve shots to Wigan’s one in that first half. Could Cook make some changes for the second half to nullify the home team’s dominance?
The manager did surprise us by making an immediate substitution. Michael Jacobs had once again been ineffective under the regime of hoofball and he was replaced by Kal Naismith. But within a couple of minutes the seemingly inevitable happened, with Joe Bryan opening the scoring for Fulham.
Needing a goal Latics did at least try to play some football, although they did not convince, with Fulham still looking dangerous. Tom Cairney’s fine goal in the 83rd minute finished it off.
Few of us expected anything other than a defeat at Craven Cottage, given Latics’ miserable record there, facing a Fulham side full of players who played in the Premier League last season. There have been far worse away performances than this over the past twelve months. Neither of the Fulham goals was “soft”; the referee was weak and easily convinced by the home team’s writhing in apparent agony after tackles and he allowed himself to be mobbed by Fulham players pleading their case; the Wigan defence did not crumble and there was no capitulation.
But what is depressing is that Cook, his coaches and his players have still not learned that you cannot play hoofball in the Championship and get away with it for very long. It is “an unforgiving league” in that respect.
There has been a scarcity of discipline in Wigan’s play away from home, together with a lack of tactical awareness on the part of the manager and his coaches. Latics are one of the most physical sides in the division and the home teams are prepared for that. Combative players like Sam Morsy and Joe Williams can expect the referees to be looking out for them. This is not to say that it is right, but it is a reality. Such players need to show self-discipline, or they will soon find their way into the book.
The hoofball that we typically witness away from home is surely not something the manager instructs his players to do. It is more likely down to the lack of a footballing philosophy at the club. It is not only the player who hoofs the ball forward but those who should be helping him when under pressure by getting into positions to receive the ball.
The manager has his tried and tested playing formations and they can work well when the players are showing the kind of discipline required.
How much longer will this continue? We had hoped that the manager and his staff would have addressed these issues by now, but the kind of stuff we saw in the first half at Fulham would have been embarrassing for us when we were a non-league team, pre-1978.
It is simply not good enough for a team in the second tier of English football.