CITY 2 WIGAN 1
IRISH international Wes Hoolahan celebrated signing a new contract with the Canaries by heading in the winner against Wigan and propelling City up to seventh in the Barclays Premier League table.
With a new and improved contract keeping him at Carrow Road until 2015 announced pre-match, Hoolahan was at his mercurial best throughout the game and capped off a great display with a goal and assist as the Canaries recorded their fifth consecutive home league win.
Hoolahan showed great tenacity to force the ball into Anthony Pilkington’s path in the 15th minute, the winger gratefully accepting the gift and lashing the ball past Ali Al Habsi in the Wigan goal.
The visitors levelled with a superb strike from substitute Shaun Maloney five minutes after the break – but Hoolahan completed a day for him to remember as he planted a firm header into the back of the net in the 64th minute from Pilkington’s pinpoint cross.
After the match Manager Chris Hughton told Canaries.co.uk: “They are all big wins, and after midweek where we were disappointed to lose against Aston Villa, we spoke about bouncing back.
“We’re now back to business and you have to treat every game exactly the same because of the quality in this league, which makes it a big win for us.
“The run has been based on the belief that we have to fight and scrap in every game, and where we’re fortunate at the moment is that we’re getting results, and in games like today, at 1-1, they might get the goal, that’s the quality in this division.
“At half time we should have been more than 1-0 up on the balance of play. It’s difficult against a good time like Wigan, but we’d have been kicking ourselves if we’d have drawn today.”
Hughton was able to bring some players back into his starting line-up, with Michael Turner, Steven Whittaker, Hoolahan and Alex Tettey all back in a strong-looking Canary side.
City made a composed start to the game but Wigan maintained their shape well, restricting the home side to one long-range effort which bounced narrowly wide from Tettey in the eighth minute.
But City’s patience and persistence was rewarded six minutes later when they took the lead with a goal which owed everything to the skill and tenacity of Irish midfielder Hoolahan.
Hoolahan seemed to have run himself into a blind alley as he attempted to take on one Wigan defender too many on the edge of the visitors’ box.
But having lost the ball and crashed to the turf he won it back from a prone position and managed to poke it into the path of Pilkington, who took a touch before blasting an angled drive past Al Habsi.
City deserved their lead but their followed a period of frustration for them as referee Lee Probert incurred the wrath of the home fans for two debatable yellow cards handed out to Norwich players.
First Bradley Johnson was cautioned after he stood on James McCarthy’s foot, he felt accidently, in the 21st minute. Then four minutes later Pilkington went down under a challenge from McCarthy on the edge of the Wigan box – only for Mr. Probert to adjudge that he had dived and promptly booked him.
In between there was time for Mark Bunn to produce a smart save to keep out a James McArthur effort in a rare Wigan attack.
City hit back with two good chances in the space of a minute just after the half-hour, first Pilkington stabbing the loose ball wide after Al Habsi could only tip it into his path and then Whittaker drilling one wide after a positive run.
In the 36th minute the move of the match so far nearly brought a superb second for City as a delicious cross floated to the far post from the left by Garrido was powered goalwards by Snodgrass, Al Habsi responding with a desperate parry on the line to keep it out.
In the 40th minute Adrian Lopez became the first visiting player to be booked by Mr. Probert, retrospectively picking up a card after a foul earlier in play.
HALF-TIME: Norwich City 1, Wigan Athletic 0
Wigan made two changes at the break, Maloney replacing Jordi Gomez and David Jones coming on for James McCarthy.
City made a positive start to the half, Holt racing on to a long ball inside the opening minute before hitting a stinging angled drive which Al Habsi palmed behind.
But it was Wigan who got themselves back on level terms with a quality strike from substitute Maloney, rifling an unstoppable shot past Bunn after Kone cut it back to him on the edge of the area in the 50th minute.
The goal rocked City back on their heels and there followed a period of strong Wigan possession, a 56th-minute booking for Sebastien Bassong adding to City fans’ frustration at this stage of proceedings.
But frowns turned to smiles on 64th minute as the Canaries regained the lead. Pilkington did well on the left touchline to pick his moment before floating in an inviting cross for Hoolahan to meet with a solid header which gave Al Habsi no chance.
Four minutes later the Wigan ‘keeper was able to keep out a fierce drive from Bradley Johnson from distance, diving to his right to tip the ball behind.
With six minutes of normal time remaining there was a fully deserved standing ovation for Hoolahan, who made way for Jonny Howson.
In the 88th minute Grant Holt pulled up chasing a long ball from Johnson and soon limped off, his 150th appearance for the Canaries ending as he was replaced by Morison.
In injury time Bassong was at his best to slide in and make a last-ditch tackle to deny Kone a last-gasp equaliser.
FULL-TIME: Norwich City 2, Wigan Athletic 1
CITY: Bunn, Whittaker, Johnson, Bassong, Turner, Snodgrass, Holt (c), Pilkington, Hoolahan (Howson 84), Garrido, Tettey. Subs not used: Rudd, Martin, Jackson, Morison, E.Bennett, Barnett.
WIGAN: Al Habsi, Kone, McCarthy (Jones 45), Gomez (Maloney 45), McArthur, Boyce (c), Boselli (Di Santo 72), Beausejour, Stam, Lopez, Figueroa. Subs not used: Pollitt, Maloney, McManaman, Fyvie, Golobart.
REFEREE: Lee Probert.