WIGAN Athletic have only themselves to blame after throwing away two precious points to remain locked in a relegation dogfight.
Hugo Rodallega’s strike had looked like it would prove to be the match-winner, the Colombian latching on to a long punt forward by Ali Al Habsi to superbly lob over David Stockdale just before the hour mark.
But Fulham substitute Andy Johnson made them pay for their profligacy with a scrappy leveller four minutes from time that deflected off both the leg of Gary Caldwell and the hand of Ali Al Habsi before looping agonisingly into the net before James McArthur could get back and clear.
The Cottagers will feel they deserved their point after bossing the last third of the game, thanks in part to Wigan dropping deeper and deeper as the anxiety in the DW grew.
But Latics will be left to rue a hat-trick of great chances that fell to Rodallega, most notably a free header in the first half that their top scorer somehow planted against the post from four yards.
Two of those gilt-edged opportunities were created by Charles N’Zogbia, who was again Wigan’s dangerman on his return from a three-match suspension, one of three changes from the last Premier League game at Bolton.
Momo Diame also came into the midfield, with Tom Cleverley and McArthur making way, while Al Habsi took over from Chris Kirkland in goal.
And the two Frenchmen were involved in the game early on, although a move down the left-hand side broke down all too easily – much to N’Zogbia’s frustration.
The visitors had the first sight of goal on eight minutes when Chris Baird – who scored both his side’s goals in the recent win at Stoke – advanced from left-back and fired in a shot that lacked power and Al Habsi made the easy save.
At the other end, Latics’ first chance saw N’Zogbia and Diame lay on a shooting opportunity for Rodallega, but his first-time effort flew well wide of the target.
The last four Premier League games between these two sides had ended all-square, and the opening quarter did little to suggest this one was going to be any different.
Latics were looking very edgy in possession, and a few of their passes were being over-hit much to the frustration of the home crowd.
But after John Pantsil was yellow-carded for a foul on N’Zogbia, Latics came within a lick of paint of taking the lead on 26 minutes.
Ronnie Stam got clear down the right after a lovely move involving Ben Watson, and his cross was inch-perfect for Rodallega inside the six-yard box.
However, with only goalkeeper Stockdale to beat, Rodallega headed against the post, with N’Zogbia’s follow-up deflecting away off a defender.
The home crowd responded by chanting the name of Rodallega, but in reality it was an poor miss and a chance that Latics – the lowest scorers in the top-flight – can ill-afford to squander at present.
Six minutes later, they were nearly made to play when Clint Dempsey played Damien Duff clean through the right channel, with Maynor Figueroa left statuesque and out of position.
But Al Habsi stood firm and saved the Irish winger’s shot with his legs, to the obvious relief of all around him.
The second half began in much the same fashion as the first had ended, with sloppiness the order of the day and neither side looking likely to trouble the scorers.
Boss Roberto Martinez made a slight change in formation, with the busy Stam coming in to the middle of the park and Diame dropping out to the left.
But when Latics managed to get their noses in front just before the hour mark, it was as far from Martinez’s idea of how to play football as could be.
A long ball hoofed forward from Al Habsi was allowed to bounce on the edge of the Fulham box, and Rodallega got there before Aaron Hughes, the last defender. With Stockdale off his line and in no man’s land, Wigan’s top scorer kept his cool before lobbing the ball over his head and into an empty net.
Fulham chief Mark Hughes responded by throwing on Mousa Dembele for Diomansy Kamara, and the visitors stepped up their efforts immediately.
Diame had to be sharp to prevent Dempsey finishing off a Davies cross, and the same pair combined moments later only for Al Habsi to save the American’s shot.
Fulham’s increased efforts in attack meant they were leaving gaps at the back, though, and Rodallega almost made it 2-0 midway through the second period.
N’Zogbia got himself free down the left, and his inch-perfect cross was volleyed high and wide on the stretch by his team-mate.
Rodallega then saw a snap-shot from close range brilliantly parried behind by Stockdale after more trickery down the left by N’Zogbia.
McArthur replaced Stam with 17 minutes remaining, with Johnson taking over from Davies for the visitors.
And the former England striker almost netted with his first touch, Al Habsi haring off his line to smother the shot.
Controversy reigned on 78 minutes when Fulham thought they had equalised through Dempsey, only for the officials to rule it out.
Duff’s cross from the right evaded Johnson and fell to Dempsey, but the man who scored a brace in Fulham’s 2-0 win over Wigan in October clearly used his arm before slotting past Al Habsi.
Although referee Anthony Taylor at first awarded the goal, his assistant on the far side flagged straightaway and, after a brief chat, the goal was correctly chalked off.
Dempsey came close again when he volleyed right into Caldwell’s face, but Fulham were not to be denied – and the equaliser came when Johnson raced on to Dempsey’s clever reverse pass to control and shoot, somewhat fortuitously, into the net.