Gary Caldwell might not have won his first game in charge of Wigan Athletic, but he certainly won the hearts and minds of the supporters with a back to type performance as the Latics took a point from a highly entertaining 2-2 draw at Craven Cottage.
Making just two changes to the starting line-up ahead of the clash with Fulham, Scott Carson returning in goal for Ali Al Habsi and Jermaine Pennant coming in for Leon Clarke, Caldwell made the first inroad to get the Latics playing football once again.
Much of this season has seen the use of long ball tactics and punts up field, gone the days of controlled football that the reputation of the club was built on over the previous four seasons, the new boss says he wants a return to the ‘Wigan Athletic’ way, get the ball on the deck and play it out, possession and penetration to create openings, patient football and he says most importantly, winning football.
The Caldwell era didn’t start too well though, within four minutes of kick off we were a goal down. A ball from the right to Ross McCormack who had dropped slightly, the Scotland international turned and picked his spot from 22 yards giving Carson no chance as the ball flew into the corner of the net, 1-0.
There was no panic to the set back from the Latics, they allowed their play to develop and kept plugging away as they ‘played’ the ball out from defence with some excellent passing, just two days under the new boss and already the players were hungry to get on the ball and move it around rather than hoof it up field.
The bright play brought some success on 22 minutes, Jermaine Pennant lined up a free kick 25 yards out after James McClean had been dumped to the floor by Scott Parker, Pennant stepped up and curled a beauty into the back of the net reminiscent of his first Latics goal away at Rotherham, 1-1.
Despite making all of the running the Latics fell behind once again on 35 minutes, Fulham striker Matt Smith chanced his arm with an effort from 30 yards, he had received a long clearance, took the ball inside and lashed home into the top corner of Carson’s net giving the former England number 1 no chance, 2-1.
After the half-time cuppa the Latics continued with the passing style, trying to break down a dogged Fulham rear guard who were relying on breaks, but it was all the visitors as they pressed for an equaliser, one came with 20 minutes of the game remaining.
A Pennant corner from the right was met by Maguire who headed the ball towards the far post, Jason Pearce flew in with real determination to get his foot to the ball and slam home into the roof of the net, 2-2.
Despite the game opening up for the final 15 minutes neither side could find another goal to take the three points, new boss Gary Caldwell had to settle for a share of the spoils, but in that first 90 minutes under his stewardship was the glimmer that we are playing our way back to the Wigan Athletic style, we once again looked like a footballing team.
There is genuine hope that the club will find its feet next season and start the turn-around, granted one game doesn’t prove anything, but after this winter of dire, desperate football, the first blossoms of spring are a much welcome sign that we could be about start off on the road to recovery.
Fulham – Bettinelli, Grimmer, Turner, Burn, Husband, Tunnicliffe, Hoogland, Parker, Kavanagh (Ruiz 73), McCormack (Stafylidis 90+3), Smith (Woodrow 63)
Unused subs – Kiraly, Hutchinson, Kacaniklic, Rodallega
Latics – Carson, Maguire, McClean, Pennant (Murphy 83), Kim, Boyce (McCann 70), Bong, Perch (Capt), Pearce, Fortune (Waghorn 57), Kvist
Unused subs – Al Habsi, Mckay, Ojo, Barnett