This was a curiously airless encounter. One that began to peter out from the first whistle, and to leech from the memory soon after the final one.
Gulls hung above the Riverside stand, off-white against the grey clouds drifting through the sunshine. There was only sporadic chanting from the sub-capacity crowd, many of whom were more captivated by their smart phones. In the pockets of silence, players could be heard shouting to each other.
It was strange to consider that this was a Premier League match, with all the largesse and hyperbole that typically entails. It was closer in temper and ambience to a village green cricket match.
There was understandable anxiety that Fulham might be in the midst of another post-european hangover and would concede the game meekly, as they had done against Manchester City a fortnight earlier. On that occasion they were still intoxicated with, and exhausted by, their transcendent victory over Juventus. This time, one hoped that despite their fine win over Wolfsburg, they might still be feeling winded by their late concession in that game, and perhaps be eager to exorcise their frustration with a clinical, unblinking, victory.
Sadly not. A woozy first-half, played out in treacle, had few pulses quickening. It gave one ample time to wonder how a team able to dispatch Shakthar Donetsk and Juventus, could conjur such labour out of overcoming an anaemic outfit like Wigan. Little was happening, and often.
Elm was making a decent fist of being target-man but will only ever be Zamora-lite. However, the post-match revelations that he was still harbouring a virus, clearly negates most criticism. Gera was busy being busy, buzzing around the opposition defence, dropping off for the ball, and displaying a stirring tenacity despite his repeated manhandling.
Danny Murphy’s passing continues to be something of a lucky dip, whilst Dickson Etuhu frequently appears startled by the appearance of a football rolling towards his feet. Damien Duff was the usual brew of drive and dynamism, and Simon Davies again occupied the right-back berth like he was born to it.
Dismissed penalty appeals combining with the paucity of chances had my mind fast-forwarding to the final minutes. I envisioned Wigan rupturing a drab 0-0 with a late goal. With that scenario in mind, it was better for them to score early, and Jason Scotland’s 34th minute drive at least acted to dispel the soporific atmosphere and inject a little urgency.
At half-time, Stefano Okaka replaced the ailing Elm. I immediately began to fear a collision between the Italian loanee and Titus Bramble, concerned that the resultant fission might initiate a tidal wave in the adjacent river Thames. Apparently, ways of harnessing the friction between his huge lycra-clad thighs are being investigated in order to reduce the Craven Cottage electricity tariff. There’s got to be at least a few floodlight’s worth there.
90 seconds into the second-half, the game stirred. Gera stole the ball off the promenading Sharner by the corner flag, and squared it across the box for Okaka to snub the ball over the prostrate Kirkland. 11 minutes later, Brede Hangeland, aware that no-one was marking him, made a determined run at Duff’s corner and angled it, perfectly, towards the far corner of the Wigan goal. It pinged the post and settled in the net.
The rest of the game was a blur of attrition: Fulham continued fairly comfortably, although their concentration did threaten to fracture at times. Often their well-practiced passing and possession can seem to almost hypnotise them, and the need to attack slip their minds.
And so the game expired. Its demeanour, however, should not diminish the importance of the victory. These 3 points almost certainly preserve Fulham’s Premiership tenure whilst providing a fine fillip prior to their match with Wolfsburg this Thursday.