Wasteful Wigan running out of escape routes
Norwich City 1 Wigan Athletic 1
Monday 12 March 2012
Former Wigan players Matt Jackson – who also defended resolutely for Norwich from 1996 to 2001 – and Neill Rimmer made the 250-mile trip from Lancashire for this fixture by bicycle, in the name of charity. Roberto Martinez's current Wigan team will need to show similar rugged devotion to a cause – and perhaps a sprint finish worthy of Mark Cavendish – if they are to prolong the club's Premier League adventure into an eighth season.
They had an opportunity yesterday to rise from the foot of the table at the expense of Wolves; that they failed to take it was due to the poor finishing that has let them down all season. Their top scorers, Jordi Gomez and Franco di Santo, have just four goals each to their names – and yesterday's lone striker Hugo Rodallega a mere two. This explains in a nutshell why a team capable of so dominating a game with fluid football, as they did here, are nonetheless in such trouble.
As their manager, Martinez, admitted: "We can't show that bit of composure in front of goal. For any team, goalscoring ability is important to get points. Clearly it was a good performance by us, we played really well, but we have only one point.
"The belief is always there [that we can avoid relegation]. We don't play like a team bottom of the league and that makes me proud. We can compete against any team in the league."
They certainly competed at Norwich, where they made, and squandered, enough chances not only to have taken all the points, but to have improved their goal difference significantly in the process. But in the end they had a flying one-handed save by their goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi, from a header by Norwich substitute Steve Morison, to thank for preserving even the one point they had worked so hard to earn.
Al-Habsi made a horrible start, however, when his sliced clearance into touch enabled Norwich to score with their first attempt in the 10th minute. From the quickly taken throw-in, Simeon Jackson lifted a simple cross for Wes Hoolahan to dink a skilful near-post volley over the goalkeeper into the far corner.
Wigan could desperately have done with finishing of such confidence and quality. The recalled Rodallega had already allowed two good chances go past when, three minutes before half-time, the Colombian scooped the ball high over the crossbar from six yards, after Norwich goalkeeper John Ruddy had spilled a shot from Gomez. In time added at the end of the half, Ruddy was again unable to hold a thumping shot, this time from Rodallega, but recovered just in time to prevent Victor Moses from cashing in.
"Unfortunately for Hugo, this has been his kind of season," Martinez said of his striker.
Similar service resumed after the interval, Ruddy saving a shot from the impressively forward-bursting James McCarthy by the unorthodox expedient of sitting on it.
The Latics at last got the reward they so richly deserved after 68 minutes when Moses ran onto a through-ball from Shaun Maloney and went round Ruddy to score.
At the close, the game became frantic and, as Norwich manager Paul Lambert said: "We could have won it at the end, we could have lost it at the end."
Mohamed Diame had been on the field barely a minute when he arrived at pace to meet a centre from fellow substitute Maloney, only to volley it high. And, as chances came and went at both ends in the breathless finale, Al-Habsi made the best save of the game by far from Morison's six-yard header.
Norwich: RUDDY 6; NAUGHTON 5; WARD 6; WHITBREAD 7; DRURY 6; CROFTS 5; FOX 7; SURMAN 5; HOOLAHAN 6; HOLT 5; JACKSON 6
Wigan: AL HABSI 6; FIGUEROA 6; CALDWELL 6; ALCARAZ 5; BEAUSEJOUR 6; McARTHUR 5; McCARTHY 6; BOYCE 6; MOSES 7; GOMEZ 6; RODALLEGA 6
Substitutes: Norwich Morison 5 (Holt, 59), E Bennett 5 (Crofts, 69), Pilkington (Surman, 70). Wigan Maloney 6 (Gomez, 56 ), Diame (McCarthy, 85). Booked: Norwich Holt, Hoolahan, Whitbread, Drury. Wigan McCarthy, Moses, Alcaraz, McArthur. Man of the match Whitbread. Match rating 6/10. Possession: Norwich 45% Wigan55%. Attempts on target: Norwich 6 Wigan9. Referee K Friend (Leicestershire). Attendance 26,653
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