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Wigan Athletic's survival bid gathered pace as Arouna Kone's goal nine minutes from time beat Norwich City and made it three wins in a row for Roberto Martinez's side.
Last season a point at Carrow Road in March provided the impetus for Wigan to win seven of their last 10 games and engineer another great escape - and these three points lifted them out of the Barclays Premier League's bottom three. Wigan struggled for an hour but the threat on the Norwich goal kept growing and, after Antolin Alcaraz had seen a header cleared off the line, it was Kone who fired home from the edge of the box.
Martinez stuck with the same side that beat Newcastle United two weeks ago, which meant a second Barclays Premier League start for striker Callum McManaman. His selection meant No 1 goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi and captain Gary Caldwell again had to settle for spots on the bench, while Norwich were forced into one change with Lee Camp taking his place in goal for the suspended Mark Bunn.
The visitors are not quite clear of the relegation scrap and they began well, with striker Kei Kamara looking a threat, but they did not trouble Joel Robles in the home goal. The hosts were struggling to make an impact but they did put together a fine move in the 27th minute as Shaun Maloney turned and found Emmerson Boyce who set up Kone for a shot just wide.
Alcaraz had also been a doubt for the match, with Martinez keen not to overplay him after he missed six months of the season with a groin tear. The Paraguayan's calmness in defence has been much missed and he saved his team after a misunderstanding allowed Kamara to run free, only for Alcaraz to nick the ball quite brilliantly. Wigan went down the other end and again it was Kone with the shot, which was parried away by Camp, although it may have been going wide anyway.
It was the same Wigan side who tore apart Everton in the FA Cup quarter-finals and they needed some of the same spark in the second half. Maloney worked himself into a great position from a corner but fired a long way over the bar while, at the other end, Bradley Johnson was much closer with a shot just past Robles' post. In the 70th minute, Alcaraz almost gave Wigan the lead when he rose highest to meet Jean Beausejour's corner but his header was cleared off the line by Jonny Howson.
Wigan were certainly in the ascendancy, with Maloney at the centre of everything, and they went close again in the 77th minute as James McCarthy drilled a shot just wide. Jordi Gomez was the next to try his luck when he was picked out by Beausejour but his first touch was poor and the massed ranks of Norwich defenders blocked his effort.
The goal was coming and it arrived in the 81st minute. Wes Hoolahan lost the ball in midfield and it proved costly as Gomez picked out Kone, who smashed home a fine strike from the edge of the box.
Norwich could not exert any real late pressure on Robles' goal and Chris Hughton's side are only four points ahead of their opponents.
Wigan manager Roberto Martinez: "It was very important [to win], as you can imagine. The points they are vital to try to increase the points tally. But today was more important than that. Today was to find a way to perform after an international break which historically for us has been very, very difficult.
“Today we had to find that extra character to keep a clean sheet against a Norwich side who are the best team in the Barclays Premier League in dead-ball situations and we all know how organised they are and how well they do to keep a clean sheet.
"So I'm extremely, extremely proud. It is one of those performances that probably we weren't at our best in terms of the style and the fluent possession that we always have because we had a few tired legs as you can expect. So today to perform in that manner, to find a way to keep a clean sheet, to find a way to score that all-important goal and restrict Norwich to no shots on target, is a phenomenal effort and a great result."
Norwich manager Chris Hughton: "It's about the clinical moments, and they had the one in the game that got them the goal.
"I thought we played well in the first half. We wanted to get in behind them and get crosses in and, for an away team, I thought we did that well.
"It was disappointing because we gave the ball away for their goal in the middle of the park, so it was a little bit of a soft one."
|07 Apr 2013||v QPR (A)|
|17 Apr 2013||v Man City (A)|
|20 Apr 2013||v West Ham (A)|
|27 Apr 2013||v Spurs (H)|
|04 May 2013||v West Brom (A)|
|07 May 2013||v Swansea (H)|