Escape specialists Wigan can sense another act of defiance after Arouna Koné came up with his second consecutive match-winning goal to lift his side out of the bottom three and ensure Aston Villa take on Liverpool today under maximum pressure.
Koné was on the spot to score a 90th-minute decider to beat Newcastle before the international break, when Maynor Figueroa appeared to touch the ball with a hand in setting up the chance. There was, however, no argument over the legitimacy of his goal this time.
Sent clear by a superb through ball from Jordi Gomez with a little under 10 minutes left, the Ivory Coast striker hit a shot from the edge of the box that had too much power for Lee Camp the goalkeeper, who got both hands on the ball but could not stop it beating him.
The goal – Koné's 10th this season in the Premier League, 12th overall and sixth in his last six matches – sealed back-to-back wins for Wigan for only the second time this season and left Roberto Martinez, the manager, with a strong conviction that his team can beat relegation again after winning seven of their last nine matches a year ago.
They have a tough run-in, with Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal among their eight remaining opponents, but have a chance to do further damage to Queens Park Rangers next week. Their last fixture is at home to Villa.
Martinez felt his team might have kept the ball better and played with a little more style, but had reason to forgive his players. "What was good is it is the first time we have come back from an international break and won," he said.
"We are unusual in that we have 13 players who leave us when there are internationals and it makes it very difficult physically at this stage of the season.
"What we did show was incredible character. To restrict any team in the Premier League requires massive effort."
In the case of Norwich, though, it might be argued that less effort is required than with some Premier League sides. The Canaries have scored only three goals in their last seven matches and have won only one in 14, a statistic which is beginning to weigh heavily on them.
A week or so back, they were one of the group in mid-table who looked comfortably out of danger but this morning they sit only four points clear of the bottom three. They are not quite in such peril as Sunderland among those slipping backwards but by no means safe.
"We've got seven matches left but four are at home," said their manager, Chris Hughton. "Clubs like ourselves are stronger there but I thought this was a good opportunity to pick up points.
"I'm disappointed with the goal. I couldn't see it happening as we were so solid. For me it was soft. We lost the ball in middle of park and one good strike saw them get the goal that they really needed."
In reality, Wigan deserved the win on the basis that they threatened to score, which Norwich rarely did.
Hughton's players twice cleared off the line, Michael Turner from a shot by Gomez and Jonny Howson from a header by Antolin Alcarez, who was also the pillar of Wigan's defence.Reuse content