Norwich City 2, Wigan Athletic 1
17:10 15 December 2012
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Wes Hoolahan celebrated signing a new contract with Norwich City by heading the winning goal against Wigan to stretch his side’s unbeaten Premier League run to 10 matches.
The decisive goal from Hoolahan came after 64 minutes at Carrow Road to give the Canaries their fifth successive home league win, with Anthony Pilkington also on target for the third home league game in a row.
Pilkington struck first after 15 minutes with a rising shot after determined work by Hoolahan, and City might have extended their lead before the break.
Pilkington jabbed another chance wide, and Robert Snodgrass had a header from point-blank range clawed away by Wigan ’keeper Ali Al Habsi.
Wigan made them pay on 51 minutes when substitute Shaun Maloney equalised with a rasping shot from the edge of the Norwich area.
But just as Wigan seemed to be growing in confidence after a poor first half, Hoolahan restored City’s advantage in the 64th minute. Pilkington returned the favour by twisting away from Emmerson Boyce and crossing to the near post, where Hoolahan beat Al Habsi with a firm header.
The Canaries regained the ascendancy after that but it still took a fine tackle by Sebastien Bassong on Arouna Kone to deny Wigan the chance of a stoppage-time equaliser.
Victory took Chris Hughton’s team into a heady seventh place in the table with 25 points, a very healthy tally with two more matches to go before they reach the halfway stage of the league season.
The Canaries showed five changes after the midweek Capital One Cup home defeat by Aston Villa.
Back from injury were Steven Whittaker (hip), Alex Tettey (thigh) and Hoolahan (groin), while there were recalls for centre-back Michael Turner, out since the home win over Manchester United with a shoulder problem, and full-back Javier Garrido.
Of the five left out from Tuesday night, Russell Martin, Leon Barnett, Jonny Howson and Steve Morison were dropped to the substitutes’ bench and there was no place for Marc Tierney.
Wigan made two changes after the 2-2 draw with Queens Park Rangers with defender Maynor Figueroa back from suspension and Mauro Boselli included in attack.
Before kick-off, Sebastien Bassong was presented with the player of the month award for November and it was announced that Hoolahan had signed a new contract running to 2015.
Skipper Grant Holt was making his 150th senior appearance for City.
A free-kick for a foul by Lopez on Holt gave City their first dead-ball opportunity, but Pilkington’s ball was headed away by McCarthy.
With eight minutes gone, Tettey tried his luck as he took Whittaker’s pass and let fly from 20 yards, his right-foot shot going a couple of feet past the post.
Wigan won a corner when Bassong hacked away Stam’s cross and when the kick was cleared, Gomez fired high into the crowd.
But with 15 minutes gone, City went ahead when Pilkington scored for the third league home game in a row.
Hoolahan’s determination set up the chance as he wriggled through, lost the ball once but won it back from Wigan skipper Boyce with a timely tackle, and teed up Pilkington to beat Al Habsi with a rising left-foot shot.
Midway though the half there was a long delay while McCarthy was treated after Johnson trod on his foot, the City midfielder being shown the yellow card. The home crowd became impatient with the hold-up.
Bunn saved from McArthur, grabbing the ball at the second attempt, as Wigan threatened for the first time, then Snodgrass tested Al Habsi after weaving through at the other end.
Pilkington was shown the yellow card for diving when he went down under challenge from Lopez, which further aggravated the home fans.
They were increasingly angry when Hoolahan was wrestled off the ball by Stam and referee Probert again saw no offence.
Pilkington almost had a second on 33 minutes when Al Habsi failed to hold a cross by Snodgrass and he poked the loose ball just across the face of goal.
Whittaker almost added to his goal at Swansea with a determined run and well-struck effort that fizzed past the post.
Kone headed wide from a cross by Beausejour in a rare Wigan raid, but it had been one-way traffic and it was very nearly 2-0 on 37 minutes. A splendid move involving Hoolahan and Pilkington ended with Garrido crossing into the six-yard box, but Snodgrass, with a free header, did not get enough power on it and Al Habsi clawed it away one-handed.
Lopez became the first Wigan player booked for a foul, but four minutes before the break, Boselli brought Bunn into action with a header from a cross by Stam.
• Half-time: Norwich City 1, Wigan Athletic 0
Wigan made two changes at the break as Jones replaced the hobbling McCarthy and Maloney came on for Gomez.
Holt went close to a goal in the opening minute of the half as he latched on to Whittaker’s through-ball and tested Al Habsi with a powerful shot from a tight angle.
Substitute Maloney wasted a free-kick from just outside the Norwich area after Tettey had been penalised, taking it more like a rugby conversion and clearing the bar by yards.
But six minutes into the half, Maloney did much better with a well-taken equaliser. Kone did the legwork on the left side of the Norwich area and rolled the ball back perfectly for Maloney to rifle a shot home from just outside the penalty area.
Bassong became the third City player booked on 57 minutes when he fouled McArthur, trying to make up for having given the ball away.
Bunn had to dive to his right to keep out a shot by Figueroa as Wigan began to look a more dangerous side.
There were appeals for handball as a cross from Pilkington appeared to bounce up and strike Beausejour on the arm but play carried on and Holt might have done better than put a scissor-kick volley wide from a Snodgrass cross.
But it was 2-1 on 64 minutes when Hoolahan scored his first league goal of the season.
Pilkington was the provider, taking Garrido’s pass and turning Boyce inside and out before crossing to the near post, where Hoolahan beat Al Habsi with a firm header.
It was the third time in a row Hoolahan had scored against Wigan after netting in both fixtures last season. It was also City’s first Premier League goal at the River End of the ground since April.
Johnson tried to make it three with a powerful drive that Al Habsi dived to his right to keep out.
Wigan made their final change when Di Santo replaced Bosell with 18 minutes left.
Al Habsi denied the irrepressible Pilkington with another fine save as City looked for a third goal to make the game safe.
With five minutes left, goalscorer Hoolahan made way for Howson in City’s first change.
Snodgrass curled another shot wide before, in the final minute, Morison replaced Holt.
Four minutes of stoppage time were signalled as the change was made.
Wigan were down to 10 men with Lopez receiving treatment, but it took a brilliant challenge by Bassong on Kone to stop him levelling the scores.
Elliott Bennett replaced Pilkington in the final minute of time added on.
Kone fired into the side netting with Wigan’s last chance.
• Norwich City: Bunn; Whittaker, Turner, Bassong, Garrido; Tettey, Johnson; Snodgrass, Hoolahan (Howson, 85), Pilkington (Elliott Bennett, 90); Holt (Morison, 90). Subs (not used): Rudd, Russell Martin, Barnett, Jackson.
• Wigan Athletic: Al Habsi; Boyce, Lopez, Figueroa; Stam, McCarthy (Jones, 45), McArthur, Beausejour; Gomez (Maloney, 45); Boselli (Di Santo, 72), Kone. Subs (not used): Pollitt, McManaman, Fyvie, Golobart.
• Referee: Lee Probert (Wiltshire)
• Attendance: 26,677
• Goals: City: Pilkington (15), Hoolahan (64). Wigan: Maloney (51)
• Bookings: City: Johnson (22), Pilkington (26), Bassong (57). Wigan: Lopez (41)