WIGAN Athletic slumped back to the foot of the Premier League table after seeing their losing sequence extend to eight matches.
Again Latics created more than enough chances to have won the game, but they were unable to convert them and were made to pay the ultimate price.
The closest the home side came was when Victor Moses and Maynor Figueroa hit the post in the second half, the former’s effort in particular deserving to find the net after bamboozling goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer.
By then, though, the Cottagers had taken the lead against the run of play through Clint Dempsey just before the break, and Moussa Dembele sealed the points with number two in the dying seconds.
Roberto Martinez had been afforded the luxury of being able to name an unchanged side for the first time this season, although he was forced into a switch with barely 10 minutes gone when Momo Diame limped off.
And that set the tone for much of what followed, Latics enjoying plenty of possession and pushing forward at every opportunity, but coming up short when it really mattered.
Diame had clearly been identified by the Cottagers as one of Wigan’s key men, the Frenchman being felled twice inside the first five minutes by crunching fouls.
The first, by Zdenek Grygera, earned the Fulham full-back an early yellow card, but it was the second, by Steve Sidwell, that caused lasting damage, resulting in James McArthur entering the fray.
Initially, Latics didn’t let the loss of Diame ruin their flow, and some nice interplay between David Jones and Hugo Rodallega led to Jones testing Schwarzer from distance.
The goalkeeper was up to the shot, and he was able to watch Wigan’s next effort, from Moses, fly harmlessly wide of his left-hand post.
At the other end, Andrew Johnson, Dempsey and Bobby Zamora were linking up well, although Gary Caldwell and Antolin Alcaraz were successfully preventing Ali Al Habsi from being called into action.
Jones was seeing more of the ball than anyone in the opening quarter, and his volley from Emmerson Boyce’s cross midway through the first half was only just wide of Schwarzer’s near post.
Figueroa hadn’t enjoyed the best of starts, being caught in possession a couple of times trying to go forward.
But the Honduran left-back almost created Wigan’s opener on the half-hour with an inspired run that saw him beat four Cottagers defenders.
His cross was half-cleared to Ben Watson on the edge of the penalty area, and the midfielder’s volley was heading for the roof of the net before Schwarzer superbly tipped it over the bar.
Then, from Jones’ resulting corner, Caldwell somehow headed over from six yards, his reaction – punching the turf repeatedly – showing how good a chance he thought it was.
Latics were given a warning when Johnson was played in down the Fulham right, but Al Habsi was right behind the shot and his handling was impeccable as usual.
A clever touch by Alcaraz allowed Albert Crusat time to weigh up his options down the left, and his cross was heading for Rodallega before Brede Hangeland intervened.
The ball found its way to Boyce, who was upended on the edge of the area, but Jones’ free-kick was blocked by the wall, with a couple of Latics men claiming in vain for a handball.
Rodallega wasn’t getting much joy up front on his own, although the Colombian managed an overhead kick that didn’t clear the bar by too much.
Some lovely link-up play between Moses and Boyce down the Wigan right resulted in Moses’ deflected cross being helped over the bar, somehow, by Schwarzer, although how much the Aussie knew about it was anyone’s guess.
It was all Wigan as the first half entered its last five minutes - only for the visitors to edge in front with a rare sortie into enemy territory.
Danny Murphy’s through ball found Zamora in acres of space wide left, and the striker’s cross was bundled home by Dempsey despite a valiant attempt from Al Habsi to pull off a point-blank save.
To Wigan’s credit, they stuck at it and nearly found a leveller within a minute, Watson’s shot being diverted inches wide of the upright by Moses, with Schwarzer not getting there.
Latics started the second half on the front foot, too, Rodallega twice shooting from way out when he’d have been better advised to have taken an extra touch, while Watson headed wide from Moses’ cut-back.
The visitors were continuing to look sharp on the break, though, and Zamora found himself in oceans of space down the left, and the cross almost found its way to Dempsey before Alcaraz cleared.
Latics came agonisingly close to an equaliser eight minutes after the restart, when a bouncing ball arrived at the feet of Moses 30 yards from goal, and the winger’s swerving, dipping volley fizzed past Schwarzer only to come back off the inside of the far post and away.
Two minutes later, Rodallega was almost in after a Moses shot was parried by the goalkeeper, before Latics were fuming at referee Mike Jones for pulling back a promising break to caution Dembele when the home side would have preferred an advantage.
Hangeland became the third Fulham man in the book on the hour mark for a crude lunge on Rodallega, before Zamora almost made it 2-0 with a stinging strike that was brilliantly tipped over by Al Habsi.
Franco di Santo entered the fray with 26 minutes left, Crusat making way, and he was joined by Ronnie Stam midway through the second period, for Boyce who’d put in another solid shift.
Fulham also made a change as the game entered the final quarter, Murphy being relieved by Dickson Etuhu, who was fortunate not to have his name taken before he’d even touched the ball for a blatant pull on Moses.
Bryan Ruiz – a former team-mate of Stam at FC Twente in Holland – came on for the final 13 minutes, before the official showed he hadn’t learnt his lesson by bringing Latics back for a second time to caution a Fulham man, this time Etuhu.
Wigan’s luck was out again with seven minutes remaining when Figueroa cut in from the left, but his clever shot from 20 yards hit the outside of the post.
Moments later, Figueroa’s cross was headed straight at the goalkeeper by Rodallega, before the visitors wrapped up the points with three minutes remaining, Dembele wriggling free of Alcaraz and side-footing past Al Habsi into the corner of the net.
The goal was the cue for a sizeable chunk of the home fans to make their way home, and they didn’t miss a great deal in the closing stages, Caldwell blazing high and wide with the final kick of another disappointing afternoon.
Latics: Al Habsi 7; Boyce 7, Caldwell 6, Alcaraz 7, Figueroa 6; Moses 8, Jones 7, Watson 6, Diame, Crusat 6; Rodallega 7. Subs: Pollitt, Stam, McArthur (for Diame, 13) 6, McCarthy, Gomez, Sammon, Di Santo (for Crusat, 64) 6.
Fulham: Schwarzer; Grygera, Baird, Hangeland, Riise; Johnson, Murphy, Sidwell, Dembele, Dempsey; Zamora. Subs: Etheridge, Kelly, Kasami, Ruiz (for Zamora, 81), Duff (for Dembele, 90), Etuhu (for Murphy, 70), Briggs.