For the second season running, Wigan welcomed a newly promoted club to the DW Stadium this time replacing the Tangerine of Blackpool with the yellow and green of Norwich. There had been much talk on the internet and in the pubs sand clubs of Wigan this week regarding the strength in depth of the squad and whether Martinez’s players would secure only their second opening day victory during their Premier League tenure.
Martinez sprang a surprise including McCarthy who seemed recovered from his ankle injury in midfield with Di Santo playing the lone forward role wit Rodallega on the bench. The centre back vacancy due to Alcaraz’s injury being filled by Lopez.
In the end a draw was a fair result, the superior football and class of Wigan being tempered by the tenacity and spirit of Norwich.
Both teams started off cautiously, keen to avoid conceding the advantage to their opponents with once again the mercurial Moses looking to be Wigan’s dangerman. Norwich looked ponderous at the back and a lunging two footed tackle in the first five minutes on Di Santo by Fox earned the defender a yellow card from Mr Attwell when later in the game it may have earned a straight red.
For Norwich, Hoolahan was the main creative outlet in centre midfield and didn’t lose anything in comparison with his opposite numbers. Norwich were well served in attack by Holt and Morison two big strong burly forwards who gave the Wigan centre halves, Caldwell and Lopez a torrid time. One such challenge between Morison and Lopez left both players nursing head injuries. Whilst Morison returned after five minutes, Lopez was off the pitch for some fifteen minutes leaving Wigan to play on a man short.
Norwich tried to make their number advantage count and Morison forced a good save from Al Habsi. Wigan seemed to be content to play a patient passing game out from the back, seeking to minimise the temporary loss of Lopez by controlling the ball. The first of some over casual play throughout the afternoon, this by Watson in the sweeper role almost let Norwich in but the chance was smothered by the covering defence.
Norwich for all their limited skills never looked overawed and roared on by a capacity away following they tried to take the game to Wigan, their most notable chance at nil apiece was when Crofts beat the offside trap out on the right but fired high, wide and not very handsome when composure was called for.
At the other end Di Santo was a constant menace and on one such occasion he pushed the ball past De Laet who nudged him in the penalty area allowing the big Argentian to fall theatrically to the floor earning a deserved but soft penalty.
Watson stepped up and buried the shot past Ruddy and the home side had the lead.
Norwich didn’t wilt however and almost equalised when a free kick on the left beat all three Norwich attackers ( who had eluded their markers) the despairing dive of Al Habsi and thankfully for the home fans the far post to maintain Wigan’s advantage.
The game continued to ebb and flow without ever reaching the heights that the Premier League is noted for and Moses cut in from the left wing on one of many superb jinking runs and fired just wide of the far post.
Norwich drew level when on the stroke of injury time the normally reliable Al Habsi spilled an innocuous shot straight at the feet of Hoolahan who buried the ball in the back of the net.
Wigan immediately tried to hit back and Di Santo should have done better when he headed over the bar when unchallenged from a Moses cross.
Both teams in the second half upped the tempo and therefore the quality as they strove for another goal, Di Santo heading narrowly wide and then having a powerful shot being deflected away for a corner.
At the other end Wigan seemed to be intent on gifting Norwich chances, a comical “will he won’t he” exchange as to whether Al Habsi should come off his line to clear a ball resulted in Caldwell conceding a corner, an amateurish back pass in the area from Lopez to Al Habsi forced him to pick the ball up thereby conceding a free kick in the area. From a corner, Boyce headed the ball directly to Morison who was unable to tap the ball into the goal.
Wigan replaced Di Santo and Gomez with Rodallega and Sammon, a seemingly positive mood but Wigan seemed to drop back and defend more deeply allowing Norwich to press forward . This gave the impression Wigan were the away side as they looked to catch Norwich on the break with Figueroa, Rodallega and Moses using their pace and skill to stretch the away defence.
As the game went on Wigan seemed to up the tempo and when Norwich failed to clear a Wigan attack a powerful toe poke from Watson hit the post and was cleared.
The final whistle brought a deserved result for both sides although Wigan will feel that they should have got more out of the game and their sometimes too casual approach will cost them against bigger clubs.
G Caldwell……. 6/10
Man of Match
Victor Moses, so much of Wigan’s creative play and attacking opportunities spring from this exciting young talent
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