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Fulham 2-2 Wigan Cham 42 1415 The Guardian

last updated Monday 13th April 2015, 10:38 PM

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Alan Smith at The Guardian

Fulham (2) 2-2 (1) Wigan

Gary Caldwell will have been aware the Wigan Athletic chalice he took possession of earlier this week had long been poisoned. However, any vague hope the 32-year-old novice had of producing an antidote to spawn an unlikely survival mission was tempered by Fulham, who took a big leap to securing their Championship status with a draw on a frenetic night at Craven Cottage.

The new Latics manager, who replaced the sacked Malky Mackay on Tuesday, endured a dreadful start when his defence conceded a soft goal inside four minutes. Jermaine Pennant equalised midway through the opening period with a superb free-kick before Matt Smith put Fulham back in front. Jason Pearce headed in a second equaliser with a little over 20 minutes remaining but the visitors could not find a winner.

It may not be the final nail in Wigan's coffin but draws will no longer suffice. Their Championship days look numbered as they lie seven points from safety with four games to play, and League One beckons for a side who this time last season were heading for the play-offs. Twelve months before that they were on their way to Wembley and an FA Cup win.

"We'll try and win every game," Caldwell said afterwards, satisfied with the performance but aware that their chances of staying up are remote. "There's 12 points still to play for and we'll see if it's enough. But if I get that application and belief from the lads, I'll be happy whatever happens. This is a long process to get the club where I want it to be."

Once Caldwell's appointment was confirmed, the Wigan chairman, David Sharpe, spoke of a return to the passing game for which the club became well-known under Roberto Martínez. There were brief, fleeting signs of something resembling that here but before the new manager could even warm his seat in the dugout, the visitors were behind and the setback was self-inflicted.

Harry Maguire's botched headed clearance, under little pressure, dropped to the feet of Sean Kavanagh, who strode forward before picking out an unmarked Ross McCormack on the edge of the area. The striker steadied himself before curling a shot past Scott Carson for his 13th league goal of the season. Without him Fulham would be far deeper in the mire.

Much of Wigan's plight can be boiled down to problems in attack rather than defence. Of the bottom 10 in the table only Brighton have conceded fewer but only Blackpool and Millwall have scored fewer. Yet they drew level 22 minutes in when Scott Parker impeded James McClean and Pennant bent an exquisite free-kick over the wall. It was Pennant's third goal of the season, all from free-kicks.

Despite the impressive finishing, the game lacked finesse for long spells and McCormack almost capitalised on slack Wigan defending for a second time after latching on to a cross-field pass from Michael Turner, only for the striker to be halted by a desperate last-ditch slide from Emmerson Boyce.

No matter, a minute later the hosts went back in front thanks to a stunning goal from Smith that caught Carson by surprise. Ryan Tunnicliffe picked Smith out 25 yards from goal and, as the Wigan defence stood off, he floated a stunning right-footed effort over the retreating goalkeeper's head and into the top left corner.

Fulham enjoyed the upper hand early in the second period but could not find a third to put the game to bed. Smith, who remained the focal point of their attack, was replaced by Cauley Woodrow shortly after the hour, a switch greeted by chants of "You don't know what you're doing" directed at the manager, Kit Symons. "Matt was shattered," Symons said. "He's had a lot of football. He was out on his feet. We wanted fresh legs. It was quite an obvious one to make."

More vitriol was directed at Symons minutes later when Fulham's lead was surrendered for a second time. Pennant delivered a corner from the right, Maguire rose to head goalwards and Jason Pearce was on hand to divert the rebound in from six yards.

Both sides battled for a winner - Woodrow denied by Carson and McClean seeing a fizzing shot deflected narrowly wide three minutes from the end - but it never materialised and the full-time whistle was met by another chorus of jeers aimed at the Fulham manager despite the point surely guaranteeing their safety.

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