Norwich City’s Wes the Wiz beguiles Wigan

Norwich City beat Wigan 2-1 at Carrow Road on Saturday, thereby firmly exorcising the ghost of their midweek exit from the Capital One Cup, and banishing any lingering doubts about their ability to continue with their successful run of games in the Premier League.

For the Wigan game City made five changes to the team that lost against Aston Villa in the Capital One Cup. Back into the side came Whittaker, Tettey, Hoolahan, Turner, and Garrido. Before the game it was announced that Hoolahan had signed a contract extension which will keep him at the club until 2015. Throughout the afternoon the mercurial Irishman showed exactly why he merited this new contract.

The opening exchanges were fairly even, but City took the lead after Hoolahan ran into a knot of six Wigan players, seemed to lose the ball but won it back with an immediate tackle, stumbled, but managed somehow to poke the ball to Pilkington who beat Wigan keeper Al-Habsi with a left foot shot. It was Pilks’ third goal in the last three games at Carrow Road. Johnson was yellow carded for stamping on an opponent, and Pilkington soon followed him into the referee’s book, for allegedly diving. Norwich were making all the running and might have had three more goals in the first half, Pilkington and Whittaker went close before Al-Habsi somehow managed to save Snodgrass’ header. Home fans were becoming incensed at some of referee Lee Probert’s decisions and he left the field to a chorus of boos. Some fans wondered whether he might reappear for the second half wearing a blue shirt.

Instead Wigan made two substitutions at half-time, and one of the subs, Maloney, equalised six minutes into the second half with a fierce strike from distance after good work by Kone, who stood out for the visitors with his skill, determination, and bleached hair. Bassong was booked as City pressed for a winner, which arrived after 64 minutes when Pilkington raced down the wing and crossed for Hoolahan to score with a firm header. At 5’6” Hoolahan was the smallest player on the pitch, but he still beat two defenders to head home. His goal was the third time in a row he had scored against Wigan, and City’s first at the River End this season.

Johnson, Pilkington, and Snodgrass all tested Al-Habsi as City pressed for a third goal. In the final minutes Hughton made his customary substitutions; Howson replaced Hoolahan, Morison came on for Holt (who appeared to tweak a hamstring), and Elliott Bennett took Pilkington’s place. The eccentric Al-Habsi came up to join the fray in the City box for Wigan’s last desperate corner, but there was no further score and City had won their fifth consecutive game at Fortress Carrow Road. It was their tenth consecutive game unbeaten in the Premier League. In the major leagues in Europe only FC Barcelona are on a run as impressive as ours. Champions League next year anyone?

Wes, who else, was voted Man of the Match. After the game he was fast tracked through the Gunn Club to receive the accolades he so richly deserved from the club members and sponsors, and then hurried out by his minders. My spies tell me he then caught the train to London to join in the players’ Christmas party. I don’t know where the party was held, but if I had done I would have crashed the party just to buy Wes a drink.

Instead I had a post-match drink with one of the City directors. I told him that I was at the opening game of the season against Fulham, and that as Fulham’s fifth goal went in at Craven Cottage I had not expected the Canaries to be in seventh place in the Premier League before Christmas. “Neither did I” he agreed. “Now we are so high up the league I have a nose bleed”. Well done Chris Hughton and our team for taking us to such dizzy heights. Let us hope City continue to perform at this level and rise even further up the league. We will soon get used to the nosebleeds and altitude sickness.