Dempsey helps Fulham make a point
Wigan Athletic suffered considerable frustration after failing to finish off Roy Hodgson's hard-working Fulham side in a contest in which the Londoners were able to return to the capital with a valuable point. Roberto Martinez's side at least put their embarrassment of last week's drubbing at the hands of the league's bottom club behind them, but it could have been so much better.
Wigan dominated almost throughout, driven on by their lanky French midfielder Mohamed Diame, and led through Emmerson Boyce's strike, only for Clint Dempsey to grab an equaliser from the spot. While the Barclays Premier League heavyweights were slugging it out at Stamford Bridge, this was very much the undercard, a contest between two super welterweights, and one that, had it been a boxing match, Wigan would have won easily on points.
The experience was more like watching a league match on the continent, as style was preferred to muscle and both sides played some attractive stuff. Wigan cannot afford much more of this generosity at home, however, or they will soon drop from their mid-table spot.
The home side were threatening from the off as Charles N'Zogbia's wicked free-kick towards the back post came within inches of vital contact from both Titus Bramble and Hugo Rodallega. Fulham then came even closer as Bobby Zamora carved out a terrific opportunity for his strike partner Erik Nevland with an inviting ball over the defence.
Nevland, who had timed his run to perfection, left Chris Kirkland stranded with a looping header and time seemed to stand still as, amid almost complete silence inside the stadium, the ball dropped towards goal, clipped the inside of the post and bounced along the line before being hacked clear. Wigan went one better, taking the lead in the 14th minute with a goal that would have had Hodgson tearing his hair out.
Paul Scharner beat two defenders to meet Erik Edman's cross and headed the ball back to Boyce, completely unmarked eight yards out and with time to control the ball and steer it past Mark Schwarzer. Schwarzer performed heroics two minutes later to keep the visitors in the game, with a stunning save to turn N'Zogbia's thunderous 30-yard strike on to the crossbar. He had to be alert again after a one-two between Rodallega and Jason Scotland led to the Colombia international trying a first-time shot that the Australian goalkeeper only just managed to smother.
Wigan continued to press and Rodallega threatened with a bending direct free-kick that deflected just over, then Scharner headed over both goalkeeper and crossbar after Bramble delivered a telling pass. All that good work was undone, however, as panic in the Wigan ranks led to a penalty for Fulham. Two chances to clear the ball were passed up and, when Dempsey shaped to shoot, Titus Bramble - who was otherwise excellent - dived in from behind to concede the spot-kick.
Dempsey took the penalty himself, rifling to Kirkland's left with a minimum of fuss for the American's third league goal of the season. An amazing double save by Kirkland kept the scores level as Dempsey and Jonathan Greening were both denied the Wigan goalkeeper.
Dempsey's wickedly-struck free-kick was pushed aside by Kirkland and he was still prone as Greening pounced on the follow-up, somehow managing to get his hands up in time to turn away the shot. It was a case of 'anything you can do' at the other end then as Schwarzer, at full stretch, tipped over Scharner's curler as it headed towards the top corner.
Rodallega blasted high and wide as Wigan tried to rediscover their first-half dominance, then Schwarzer had to parry Hendry Thomas' bullet header from Rodallega's corner. A thrilling run from N'Zogbia across the penalty area nearly led to an equally thrilling goal, but Schwarzer's fingertips just took the pace off the ball and Brede Hangeland was able to clear.
Rodallega continued to look Wigan's most likely provider of a winner as he landed a free-kick on the roof of the net, then Duff nearly contrived an unlikely winner only for Kirkland to save low down at full stretch. There was a final chance in the last minute after Dickson Etuhu had barged over Diame, but N'Zogbia's free-kick was tame and straight at Schwarzer.