Premier League Preview: Fulham – Wigan Athletic

Inconsistent Latics aim to end capital hoodoo at Fulham...
Sunday, April 04, Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
Craven Cottage, Stevenage Road, London, SW6

Although Wigan Athletic's track-record in the capital this season has been horrendous, losing twice and conceding 13, their visit to Fulham could have fallen at the perfect time.

Having dispatched Juventus and Shakhtar Donetsk in the Europa League, it's no surprise the Cottagers are prioritising their continental campaign above their final Premier League position.

Settling for a place in the division's 'no-man's land' was brought under the full media spotlight by West Ham United's top-brass recently, when they openly criticised Roy Hodgson's understrength selection at Hull City.

Despite allowing the Tigers to cruise to a 2-0 win, the gamble of resting six first team players proved worthwhile for Fulham, who saw off the reigning Bundesliga champions Wolfsburg in midweek.

The semi-final of the Europa League is now within touching distance, so the Latics could come toe-to-toe with another weakened outfit on Sunday afternoon.

Resting key personnel is Hodgson's prerogative though, having seen his side endure 16 fixtures since the start of February, stretching his meagre resources to the limit. It has proved the catalyst for their downturn in league form with only the Hammers more out of sorts in March.

Waving the white flag during their last three league outings, and not winning in their previous five, sees them settling for mid-table mediocrity. Although relegation is out of the question, with excursions to Liverpool, Everton and Arsenal still on their agenda, picking up results on home soil is imperative.

Craven Cottage has become a formidable place to visit this season though, with Fulham conceding just 11 goals there, a feat bettered by only Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United. A well organised and disciplined back line has been instrumental, marshalled by Mark Schwarzer with 10 clean-sheets.

The Cottagers also have Bobby Zamora to thank for their success on all fronts. His goalscoring prowess has proved unquenchable at times, orchestrated by Damien Duff and Danny Murphy pulling the strings in the middle.

Their contribution will again be key if they are to beat a Wigan side nervously looking over their shoulders. The spectre of a return to the Championship, after five seasons back in the top-flight, has loomed too close for Wigan's faithful, who have often been left peering at games through their fingers this season.

Inconsistency has seen the Latics fail to gain any upward momentum. A 1-0 victory at the DW Stadium over Liverpool was followed by a 4-0 humbling at Bolton Wanderers, providing a salient example of their tendency to linger at football's polar extremes.

Regardless of March defeats to Aston Villa and Manchester City, a priceless victory over Burnley eased fears, although its been five games since they last won on the road.

While on course to salvage their Premier League status under fledgling boss Roberto Martinez, the club have failed to score in 11 games this season and have a rear-guard that is anything but impervious.

The North West side have conceded 42 times on the road, shipping more than three goals per game on nine occasions, and will have to shore up their back line to assure survival.

FORM GUIDE

Fulham


01 Apr (Europa League) v Wolfsburg (H) WON 2-1
27 Mar (Premier League) v Hull City (A) LOST 2-0
24 Mar (FA Cup) v Tottenham Hotspur (A) LOST 3-1
21 Mar (Premier League) v Manchester City (H) LOST 2-1
18 Mar (Europa League) v Juventus (H) WON 4-1

Wigan Athletic

29 Mar (Premier League) v Manchester City (A) LOST 3-0
20 Mar (Premier League) v Burnley (H) WON 1-0
16 Mar (Premier League) v Aston Villa (H) LOST 2-1
13 Mar (Premier League) v Bolton Wanderers (A) LOST 4-0
08 Mar (Premier League) v Liverpool (H) WON 1-0

TEAM NEWS

Fulham


Having come under fire for his weakened team selection against Hull, all eyes will again be on Roy Hodgson's starting XI on Sunday.

Defender Stephen Kelly could return to action after missing the midweek Europa League clash because of a knock sustained in training, while John Pantsil is closing in on a return following his three-month lay-off with knee problems.

Striker Andy Johnson is a long term casualty with a knee injury, but other star performers could miss out as Hodgson again prioritises their forthcoming Europa League fixture.

Last starting XI (v Wolfsburg): Schwarzer; Konchesky, Hangeland, Hughes; Gera, Murphy (Baird), Duff, Etuhu, Dempsey Davies; Zamora.

Wigan Athletic

Latics ball-winning midfielder Hendry Thomas has a thigh injury and is doubtful for the clash, while Emerson Boyce still has back problems.

Central midfielder Ben Watson was recalled from loan at Championship promotion hopefuls West Bromwich Albion last week, and could replace Thomas in the middle.

First choice goalkeeper Chris Kirkland is available for selection after overcoming a virus in midweek, although centre-back Gary Caldwell is not in contention, serving the first game of a three match suspension.

Last starting XI (v Manchester City): Stojkovic; Caldwell, Scharner, Bramble, Melchiot; Figueroa, Thomas (N'Zogbia), McCarthy, Diame; Moreno (Gohouri), Rodallega (Scotland).

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Fulham – Bobby Zamora


Instinctive striker Bobby Zamora has been showcasing his goal scoring pedigree on a European playing field this season, something which has led to his name being linked with a late call-up for Fabio Capello's England squad.

Currently enjoying his most productive campaign since 2001-02, the powerful forward has placed himself firmly among the division's elite marksmen with 17 strikes from 41 appearances, in addition to six assists.

His industrious performances have helped fire Fulham on an unexpected European run, with the former Brighton striker registering in each of the previous three rounds.

It has made Fulham an unexpected quantity in Europe but having not scored a Premier League goal since February, he'll be keen to boost his haul on the domestic front.

Wigan Athletic – Hugo Rodallega

The powerful target-man has shown his calibre in fits and starts this season, weighing in with priceless strikes against Chelsea and Liverpool, as well as a late bullet header against fellow relegation strugglers Burnley more recently.

A handful for defenders with his rapid turn of pace and adhesive touch, the strapping Columbian international has been the Latics best source of goals all season with nine strikes.

Although the 24-year-old has tested goalkeepers relentlessly, with 72 of his 112 shots being on target, Rodallega has not scored away from the DW Stadium since October.

PREDICTION

With one eye on their Europa League quarter-final second-leg in Germany next week, it would be no surprise to see Hodgson rest his key men again and face a slap on the wrist from the Premier League.

Despite only one goal in their last four games, Fulham still have enough quality to brush aside an inconsistent Wigan, who will be keen to leave London with something to ease their relegation concerns.

The Latics have only scored three times in their last eight outings, and with stalemates the norm between these two sides in previous encounters, another could well be on the cards.  

Fulham 1- 1 Wigan Athletic

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