Antolin Alcaraz has had a profound effect on Wigan’s results since his return from a long-term injury. The Paraguayan international was outstanding in the Latics defence yesterday against Norwich City. He was so dominant that the Canaries were unable to muster a shot on target during the 94 minutes. He was imperious in the air and made numerous telling tackles to deny his opponents.
Wigan’s annual great escape is now very much on the cards after this vital 1-0 home victory. Ivorian striker Arouna Kone fired home the winner on 81 minutes after a defence splitting pass by midfielder Jordi Gomez. Wigan have edged themselves out of the bottom three and are now only four points behind Norwich with a game in hand.
Wigan had retained the same starting line-up from their last victory against Newcastle, but they always find games hard going after a round of international fixtures and this match was no exception. They lacked some of the vitality of recent matches and Norwich were defensively strong and denying any space in midfield.
The first half was a relatively dour affair with a lack of chances for both sides.
The second half continued in the same vein until Callum McManaman was replaced by James McArthur and the Scottish international midfielder had an instant impact on proceedings, winning a succession of important tackles and setting up possession for his colleagues.
The last twenty minutes was all Wigan, first a superb Alcaraz header was cleared off the line by Jonny Howson and then James McCarthy flashed a shot just wide of the post.
Shaun Maloney fired over the cross-bar after great work by Jean Beausejour, and Gomez was denied when Norwich defender Michael Turner threw himself in front of his shot.
In contrast Norwich rarely troubled Joel Robles in the Wigan goal and justice was done in the 81st minute when Latics took the lead.
Kone’s 10th Premier League goal of the season, and sixth in six matches in all competitions came after some good work by Maloney had set up Gomez. The former Barcelona youth player curled his pass between two Norwich defenders into the path of Kone who blasted his shot through the hands of despairing Norwich keeper Lee Camp.
Kone’s goalscoring and all round play since his return from the African Nations Cup has been a major reason for Wigan’s improvement and if it was not for the superb Alcaraz he would certainly have been the Man of the Match.
Latics now await the outcome of the Aston Villa v Liverpool and Fulham v QPR fixtures with interest, but they will be in good heart and a rich vein of form when they face QPR at Loftus Road in their next fixture.