City boss Paul Lambert was happy to settle for a point against bottom club Wigan at Carrow Road this afternoon, and it could be a result that edges them to very, very close to Premier League survival.
Even the most ardent Canary follower would admit that Norwich weren’t at their best in front of the Sky cameras, after Victor Moses scored a deserved second-half equaliser to cancel out Wes Hoolahan’s 10th minute opener.
But the draw gives City 36 points and it looks at this stage as if that will be enough for safety in 2011/12. Oh, and we’re only in mid March – it could be party time sooner rather than later.
“I always think that if you can’t win the game, make sure you don’t lose it,” Lambert told Sky after the game. “Credit to the team for keeping going as I thought today was going to be one of the hardest games and so it proved.
“Wigan are fighting for their lives but for us it’s another point nearer safety. We got off to a terrific start and some of the football we played was very good but as I’ve said, I’ll take a point.
“We brought on Pilkington and Bennett as I felt we needed a bit more energy and the lads have given me everything. I thought Morison came on and did really well and we might have nicked it at the end.”
The visitors looked sharp in the opening stages and in the fourth minute, wantaway striker Hugo Rodallega headed straight at John Ruddy after a whipped cross from Maynor Figueroa.
But it was the Canaries who took an early lead on 10 minutes after some sharp thinking from Adam Drury and a classy finish from Hoolahan.
The City left-back took a quick throw-in and with Simeon Jackson – recalled to the starting line-up – crossing into the box, Hoolahan nipped ahead of the Latics defence to lift it over Ali Al Habsi and make it 1-0.
The Wigan backline was looking shaky but the away side were attacking with purpose and enjoying more possession than the Norfolk club. And on 17, Jean Beausejour shot meekly at Ruddy, despite being well placed in space just outside the box.
Roberto Martinez’s men were still looking to go on the front foot and 10 minutes later, Rodallega had another shot on goal after being found by Moses. Unfortunately for Wigan, it nestled in the arms of the City ‘keeper all too easily.
The home team had a few half-chances, with Jackson firing a couple of long-range efforts high or wide, but the Latics were shading the half – the scoreline apart – and they enjoyed two more decent chances before the interval.
On 43 minutes, Rodallega capitalised on a Ruddy parry from Jordi Gomez’s powerful shot but he could only arrow his effort over the bar. And just before the whistle, Moses almost nipped in ahead of the Canary ‘stopper after he saved another Rodallega piledriver.
Lambert would no doubt have asked for a higher tempo in the second period and the hosts could have extended their lead right at the start of the half. An Adam Drury cross from the left was met by the trusty head of Grant Holt, but luckily for the rooted Al Habsi, it went just wide of the post.
Wigan then went up the other end and really should have found the net through James McCarthy, after he weaved his way through the City defence. However, his shot was again saved by the feet of Ruddy.
Both sides were looking nervy, giving the ball away more than their respective managers would like, and the Latics could sense it was still game on, especially when it took a last-ditch tackle from Zak Whitbread to halt Moses’ charge on goal.
By the hour mark, it was the visitors who were pressing the hardest, and McCarthy’s beautiful cross into the box somehow evaded a team-mate.
The Canaries fought back on 64 though and substitute Steve Morison did well to muscle his way past Gary Caldwell and find Jackson. His shot, however, was blocked.
The visitors got their reward on 68 minutes though through the lively Moses and what a finish it was. Shaun Maloney, who was causing City problems after coming off the bench, threaded a perfect pass through to the former Crystal Palace man, and after rounding Ruddy, Moses slotted home with ease.
With the game now level, it was Wigan who were still looking the most threatening but with 10 minutes remaining, Norwich decided to up the ante, with an Anthony Pilkington free-kick sailing just over the bar and Elliott Ward’s header going agonisingly wide.
But Martinez’s men could have got their noses in front on 86 minutes when Maloney crossed for sub Mohamed Diame, but when it looked as if he would smash it home from six yards out, he somehow shot over.
Then it was City’s turn to try and nick a winner, but Morison’s well-directed header couldn’t beat the outstretched arm of the impressive Wigan ‘keeper Al Habsi.
And that was that. The Latics will be disappointed they couldn’t wrestle the win. But for City, they’re nearly there.
City: Ruddy; Naughton, Ward, Whitbread, Drury; Crofts (Pilkington 70), Fox, Surman (Bennett 70); Hoolahan; Holt (Morison 59), Jackson. Subs: Steer, Wilbraham, Martin, Johnson.