Photo Gallery: Same result, but such a different outlook for Norwich City and Wigan
Norwich City 1, Wigan Athletic 1: Norwich City's accelerated rate of Premier League progress can be measured in Wigan's relative decline.
The fact both league contests between the pair have ended in stalemate should underline how well Paul Lambert's squad have done between those two reference points to amass 15 more league points.
Norwich have had to dig in for dear life in both games. Victor Moses has tormented them in both games. But the simple facts of footballing life right now suggest Wigan will have the cares of the world on their collective shoulders between now and the end of a campaign when Norwich look set to defy predictions that they would be slugging it out alongside the Latics.
Lambert knew pre-match it would be a hard sell to suggest the Canaries merely needed to turn up after their Spanish sojourn to collect the points. 90 minutes later and only the most ardent City fan would contest the visitors were full value for a half share of the spoils.
From Wes Hoolahan's sublime opener, Wigan established a level of territorial control that was reminiscent of the higher profile visits from both Arsenal and Tottenham. That it was Hugo Rodallega and not Robin van Persie who John Ruddy needed to thwart was a mere aside. Jordi Gomez was the king maker in a congested midfield. Emmerson Boyce an athletic outlet down their right flank. Moses, all controlled aggression and searing pace with Rodallega a willing ally. City's only defence at times was Ruddy himself.
Lambert made another five changes from the previous weekend's defeat at Stoke. Norwich's number one remains inked in on the team sheet in a permanent marker. Wigan exuded none of the perceived air of vulnerability you attach to a club in their perilous position.
Gomez picked out the unmarked Rodallega inside the opening five minutes but the Colombian glanced wide. Norwich were more circumspect in their early work.
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The recalled David Fox and Andrew Crofts struggled to break up the Latics' rhythm. Yet it was City who struck first. A goal that owed everything to Adam Drury's ingenuity when he raced down the near touchline to gather the ball for a home throw-in. Simeon Jackson was on the same wavelength to turn unattended just inside Wigan's penalty area.
Hoolahan remained decidedly second favourite to reach his intended near post clip. The Irishman may lack both height and power for crosses into the opposition box. He relies on cunning and craft. One balletic cushioned volley embarrassed Gary Caldwell and Ali Al Habsi in equal measure – Wigan's keeper seemingly undone by the spiralling flight which landed inside his far post.
Hoolahan has had to bide his time in recent weeks, but City's creative spark at his best remains a key fulcrum of attacking intent for the Canaries. Crofts, in comparison, has had to display copious amounts of patience over the duration. One of the mainstays in City's Championship promotion juggernaut was making only his second Premier League start of 2012.
First, Bradley Johnson shone in that enforcer role during the early months of the campaign. Jonny Howson's recent arrival and unveiling at the Britannia erected another potential barrier to first team opportunity. Crofts plays with a honest endeavour. Little surprise he looked so eager to impress. Few would forget his wonderful spinning volley at Barnsley last season. When Grant Holt cushioned Hoolahan's cut back into his path here, Crofts advanced into similar territory but his rising volley cleared Al Habsi's crossbar.
Wigan remained true to their passing principles. The Latics are cast in their manager's image; neat, tidy, patient. Even with the scoreboard and the season running against them, Gomez continued to set the even tempo. Boyce combined with the lively Moses, who arced his run to slip unguarded behind Norwich's backline. Rodallega turned and hit in one venomous movement ten yards out, but Ruddy was well-positioned to grasp after a partial save.
Holt's threat on the counter hinted at Wigan's relative success in wrestling back the initiative. City's skipper galloped clear on the half hour mark before rifling at Caldwell. Ball clearly struck arm inside the Wigan penalty box but referee Friend was right to wave away loud home penalty appeals – given the passive position of Caldwell's left arm.
Wigan pressed again; bossing possession with their plentiful resources in midfield to supplement the energetic surges from Rodallega. Boyce escaped down the right to cross a ball which squirted off Drury and hammered against Ruddy's crossbar before the covering Crofts alleviated any potential fallout.
Gomez then cleverly used a shield of Norwich players to drag a 20-yarder just the wrong side of Ruddy's near post with the City keeper momentarily unsighted.
Ruddy spilled another long range effort from the Spanish playmaker, Rodallega was sharpest to react but his dexterous pivot was the precursor to a rising strike that cleared the Norwich bar from barely five yards.
Ruddy was increasingly the last line of resistance with Norwich having ceded early attacking intent. Rodallega tried his luck. The ball spat up again in a muddy six yard goalmouth, but Ruddy grasped at the second attempt with Moses sensing an equaliser Wigan will feel they deserved on the balance of play.
Holt's flashing header could have inflicted a potentially fatal blow on the restart when he drifted behind Maynor Figueroa to power a trademark header narrowly beyond Al Habsi's far post. The pattern remained stubbornly unaltered; Ruddy was the keeper in greatest demand. James McCarthy exchanged a wall pass with the excellent Gomez to drive into Norwich's box only for Ruddy to stand firm.
If City's number one felt a televised platform was the perfect place for an England audition, he was showing no signs of stage fright. A fact that would have irked Lambert, given Ruddy's shot-stopping routine only seved to highlight the implicit direction of the contest following Hoolahan's opener.
Holt made way on the hour mark for Steve Morison. The skipper's demeanour illustrated the growing frustration. Zak Whitbread's yellow card for tugging back Moses – the third Norwich player to be cautioned – merely stoked up the crowd. The mood most certainly did not match the gorgeous Spring weather. Morison's raw energy earned brief respite. Kyle Naughton's launch from deep freed him to bustle to the byline. Jackson raced near post but Antolin Alcaraz's sliding block foiled the Canadian before Andrew Surman was crowded out.
Wigan's desperation was palpable. Roberto Martinez's side are running out of games to save their skins. Norwich were pinned back in a suffocating full-court press. Ruddy batted away second half arrival Shaun Maloney's near post stab.
City readied fresh reinforcements to try and turn the tide. Elliott Bennett and Anthony Pilkington were poised to enter the fray when Maloney dropped deep to feed Moses who surged through again to finally win his duel with Ruddy; a riposte long in the making. Bennett's injection sparked City into a series of reliving forays.
Norwich had stoutly attempted to defend three points. Now one was in the balance. Cornered, they opted for all out attack. Alcaraz was the second Wigan player booked inside a minute when Jackson's progress from Morison's aerial flick was crudely halted – Pilkington's free kick was a disappointing outcome to a positive home thrust.
Jean Beausejour fortuitously blocked Morison's powerful header from Fox. Elliott Ward then had Al Habsi flying across his goal. City's crowd responded. Wigan were on the back foot, but Maloney's cameo was laced with devilment.
A cute trick took him past Ward. Mohamed Diame sidefooted the cut back over from 10 yards. Moses tried an acrobatic bicycle kick. Al Habsi then went full length again with a one-handed parry to deny Morison. It was blow and counter blow.
The television executives must have been loving the entertainment - the type Norwich have served up in abundance on their Premier League journey to this point.
There was no final twist in the plot here from the Canaries. Wigan did not deserve one for their effort and endeavour. Neither in truth did Norwich.