Hoolahan and Pilkington keep Norwich flying high
Norwich 2-1 Wigan
NORWICH extended their unbeaten run in the Barclays Premier League to 10 games with a hard-earned 2-1 win over Wigan at Carrow Road.
The Canaries, who were knocked out of the Capital One Cup by Aston Villa here in midweek, made it five successive home league victories to continue their remarkable turnaround with goals in each half from Anthony Pilkington and Wes Hoolahan.
Wigan, meanwhile, have now lost five of the last seven and remain in the bottom three despite equalising at the start of the second half through substitute Shaun Maloney.
There was not much to choose between the sides during the opening stages, before Norway midfielder Alex Tettey, back from a thigh problem, tried his luck from 25 yards with a low effort which flew wide.
The Canaries were ahead on 15 minutes.
Hoolahan, who has just signed a new contract extension until 2015, carried the ball to the edge of the Wigan penalty area and then won a 50/50 with Emmerson Boyce to stab a pass through to Pilkington.
The winger took the ball in his stride before smashing a left-foot drive past Latics keeper Ali Al Habsi and into the roof of the net.
Wigan looked for a quick response, but there was a break in play when James McCarthy needed treatment after a strong challenge by Bradley Johnson, which resulted in the Norwich midfielder being shown a yellow card.
James McArthur let fly with an angled drive which Norwich keeper Mark Bunn, replacing injured England international John Ruddy, held on to at the second attempt.
Referee Lee Probert then incurred the wrath of the Barclay Stand when he showed Pilkington a yellow card for diving, when replays suggested the Norwich winger had been tripped by defender Adrian Lopez as he cut back towards the penalty area.
Pilkington almost hooked the ball in after Al Habsi had spilled a right-wing cross from Robert Snodgrass.
Full-back Steven Whittaker had scored a fine individual goal in last week's 4-3 win at Swansea and the Scotland defender surged forwards after 34 minutes to the edge of the Wigan penalty area before drilling a low, angled shot just wide.
Al Habsi then produced a brilliant one-handed save to turn away a bullet header from Snodgrass after left-back Javier Garrido had lofted the ball to the far post.
Latics boss Roberto Martinez made a double change for the second half as midfielders Maloney and David Jones replaced Jordi Gomez and McCarthy.
It was Norwich, though, who again showed an early threat as Grant Holt - making his 150th appearance - drilled in an angled effort which Al Habsi palmed behind.
Wigan were level on 51 minutes.
Arouna Kone carried the ball into the left side of the Norwich penalty area, before he pulled a pass back to the edge of the box where Maloney crashed his shot into the net.
The goal completely changed the dynamic of the match as the hosts suddenly looked devoid of ideas and uncomfortable in possession.
Norwich put some pressure on Wigan again as the hour mark passed, but Holt could only send a scissors-kick horribly wide from Snodgrass' floated ball to the far post.
Referee Probert had been taking plenty of flak from the home fans, but played a good advantage after Snodgrass had been bodychecked and Norwich broke quickly down the left through Pilkington.
The former Huddersfield winger drove on to the goalline, where he cut back inside Boyce before delivering a teasing cross, which Hoolahan headed past Al Habsi on 64 minutes.
Norwich continued to ask questions of the visitors.
Johnson tested the Wigan goalkeeper with a low effort from 20 yards, before Al Habsi produced another fine save to deny Pilkington.
With seven minutes to go, Hoolahan was replaced by Jonny Howson and the diminutive midfielder left to a standing ovation.
Sebastian Bassong made a brilliant last-ditch tackle to block Kone in stoppage time as Norwich closed out a fifth straight home win - with Chelsea and Manchester City the next visitors to Norfolk over the hectic festive schedule.