Norwich 1-1 Wigan: A point closer?

Carrow Road Norwich

Latics launched a spirited comeback to grab what could be a more than useful away point come May 2012. Spearheaded by the introduction of Shaun Maloney ten minutes into the second half, Wigan laid siege to the Canaries goal and secured a deserved equaliser through Victor Moses with just over 20 minutes to play. Mohamed Diame missed an 86th minute opportunity to snatch the game late on before Ali Al Habsi produced an even later heroic save to preserve Wigan’s point.

Following last week’s non-performance against Swansea, it was heartening to see a sprightly Latics outfit that, for periods, looked nothing like one languishing at the bottom of the table. The performance certainly trumped that of Wolverhampton Wanderers who went down by two goals to fellow relegation strugglers Blackburn yesterday afternoon, so draw what you like from that. After going behind to a fantastic Hoolahan flick on 10 minutes, Wigan were always chasing the game but improved as the game progressed and, by the time their goal went in, had chalked up seven shots on target to Norwich’s one.

Latics began the brighter, but were checked by Wes Hoolahan’s strike, which signalled the start of a good spell for the home side. Wigan managed to scramble everything clear, however, and showed signs of getting a foothold as the game approached the half hour mark. Hugo Rodallega smashed a shot right at John Ruddy in the Canaries goal, while an Emmerson Boyce cross grazed his crossbar after taking a wicked deflection on its way into the area. Jordi Gomez also flashed a shot wide, but little else threatened the Norwich goalmouth.

The visitors’ best openings came in the second half. It was imperative for them to come out fighting, which resulted in an very open five minutes or so – that first 60 seconds of the second period saw both sides create decent chances. An unchallenged Grant Holt header failed to find the target and Latics breathed easily once more. The next chance fell to James McCarthy, and what a great opportunity it was – on this occasion, Ruddy effectively closed down the Irishman, whose storming run through the Norwich final third proved a real threat.

Emmerson Boyce

Emmerson Boyce did a sterling job both in attack and defence

By the time Sean Maloney was introduced on 56 minutes, Wigan were controlling the game in terms of possession, and as the minutes passed, that equaliser looked increasingly likely. From a Victor Moses corner, Maloney got away a swift strike at the near post, which drew a superb reaction save from Ruddy. After yet more corners were swung into the Norwich area, a great piece of play from Maloney fed through Victor Moses, who rounded the keeper and slotted the ball away for that seemingly inevitable equaliser on 67 minutes. The Nigerian showed that vital bit of class to sell Ruddy the dummy, grab his third of the season and get the visitors back into the contest.

Paul Lambert made a double substitution immediately following the goal as his side, who’d been largely outplayed for the best part of 30 minutes, would still have some work to do at both ends of the field. The Canaries abandoned their containing strategy and threw everything behind an effort to find a winner. Since Wigan were intent on doing the same, we were in for an exciting final twenty minutes with some end-to-end action as, all of a sudden, the game was there for the taking for both sides.

Latics, spurred on by their recent success, were still pouring forward. Moses was now causing real problems for the hosts, and first drew a free kick from Adam Drury before delivering a great cross for Hugo Rodallega some sixty seconds later, but the Colombian headed over from what must have been eight yards.

Then came the Norwich second wind. Pilkington hit a free kick over Al Habsi’s crossbar, and a spell of Canaries pressure really tested Wigan’s mettle. They first forced a double clearance from Emmerson Boyce, now playing as a bona fide right-sided defender, before Elliott Ward headed just wide on 83 minutes.

Substitute Momo Diame had two great late chances

Moments later, Mohamed Diame spurned a wonderful opportunity to give his side the lead. Another great ball from Shaun Maloney handed the Senegalese midfielder a golden chance just feet from goal, but a last gasp defensive lunge was just enough to put him off, and the ball went flying into the stands. The following minute, Pilkington sent in an equally brilliant cross which Steve Morison connected with, and how. I swear the ball was already resting in the back of the Wigan net when Al Habsi reached out his right fist to punch clear and, somehow, keep the score at one goal each. It was a world-class save that ultimately earned his side a point – and the number of times I’ve said that this season is really mounting up.

There was still time for MoMo Diame to carve out another chance, as his fresh legs carried him all the way from the half way line to Ruddy’s penalty area. With two men waiting for a potential cross, he elected to shoot, but sadly could not find the finish to round off a fantastic move. Some tactical (read: cynical) yellow cards from McArthur and Moses helped eat away the remaining five minutes of stoppage time, and an admirable second half Wigan effort had achieved a once unlikely away draw.

But, and this is a rather large but: the complexion of this point can change dramatically depending on the result of next week’s clash with West Brom at the DW Stadium. Will Latics end the hoodoo that’s prevented us from winning at home since August? Win, and it will be a very handy point at a hostile Carrow Road. Lose, and it’s looking increasingly bleak as other teams begin to pull themselves out of the mire, leaving poor Latics in their wake. Ahh, this relegation scrap is wonderful, isn’t it? I just wish we weren’t involved in it…

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