NORWICH 2 LATICS 1Latics recovered from a catastrophic start to almost snatch a dramatic draw in a pulsating match at Carrow Road.
Jordi Gomez scored his first goal since returning to the club and with the Norwich goal under siege in the final twenty minutes Latics just couldn’t get the second their efforts deserved. Another defeat then, but so much to be satisfied in the way Gary Caldwell’s men recovered from a bad situation to push promotion favourites Norwich City all the way.
Adam Bogdan’s error and a quick-fire second enabled Jacob Murphy to net twice in the first eleven minutes but Latics weathered the storm, finishing the first half in the ascendancy, before contining after the break.
The Gomez goal was just rewards but it could easily have been more, Northern Ireland goalkeeper Michael McGovern twice denying his international counterpart Will Grigg, as well as Yanic Wildschut.
Gary Caldwell made three changes from the side who started at Sheffield Wednesday. Nick Powell’s groin injury saw Gomez make his first start since returning to the club, while Shaun MacDonald and the returning Dan Burn were the other changes , in place of the two Lukes, Burke and Garbutt.
Latics could not have got off to a worse start and quickly found themselves two goals down.
Firstly in the 2nd minute, Jake Buxton rolled the ball back to Adam Bogdan, who took a touch to control but failed to see Jacob Murphy bearing down on him. The striker stole the ball and rolled it into the empty net.
Things got worse in the 11th minute. Wes Hoolahan and Jonny Howson combined in the box to allow Hoolahan a shot from close range. Bogdan made a fine save, but the ball rebounded high in the air, and Murphy reacted quickest to head in from point blank range.
Bogdan was forced into a good save on the half hour mark when Hoolahan found space to shoot from the edge of the box, the Hungarian getting down sharply to his left to deflect the ball away for a corner.
Latics responded by enjoying their best spell of the half. Gomez set up Alex Gilbey, whose rasping drive from the edge of the box could only be parried by Michael McGovern. Jake Buxton’s brilliant tackle to deny Cameron Jerome then set up a break for Latics, Grigg looking for all the world to have been brought down in the box by Timm Klose. But the referee was not interested.
Michael Jacobs then almost set up a goal in the 37th minute, his dangerous cross looked as if it would be bundled home by Gomez on the line but Martin Olsson bravely put his body in the way to deflect the ball out for a corner. Reece Burke then tried his luck from distance, well held by McGovern. Better from Latics.
Norwich began the second half on the front foot as was to be expected, and Bogdan had to parry away a drive from Hoolahan after 52 minutes, then three minutes later Russel Martin fizzed a shot wide of the post.
Gary Caldwell rung the changes in an attempt to seize the initiative. Yanick Wildschut replaced MacDonald and Nathan Byrne made his first appearance in a Latics shirt in place of Burke with 56 minutes gone.
Byrne immediately set up a shot for Gomez, the ball rebounding off Martin’s face, before the Norwich captain had to deflect away a great cross from Gilbey just as Grigg was lurking. Wildschut then burst into the box and forced a panicked clearance, then Gomez won a free kick 25 yards out, Jacobs firing narrowly over. Much, much better from Caldwell’s men.
Latics continued to press. A shot from Wildschut blocked, then on 67 minutes, a superb save from McGovern to tip over another effort from the Dutchman. Then Max Power drifted in a cross to the far post and Dan Burn’s header was gratefully smothered up by McGovern - with 20 minutes to go, could Latics salvage something from the game?
Then at last, in the 72nd minute, Latics got their rewards. With Norwich pushing for a goal, the ball fell to the feet of Burn who galloped up the field, the ball fell to Byrne who slid it in to the feet of Grigg. His deft touch set up Gomez on the edge of the box and his left foot drive was pure Gomez. Latics had a lifeline.
When the Spaniard was fouled a minute later 20 yards out, his own free kick beat McGovern but whistled into the side netting.
Gomez then set Wildschut off on another mazy run and Norwich were back pedalling. It really was all Latics now.
Ten minutes to go, with Gomez pulling the strings in midfield, Latics still looked the more likely team to score. Another good move ended with Gilbey’s shot a yard wide.
Final throw of the dice from Caldwell on 84 minutes, Craig Davies replacing Gilbey.
Grigg saw his drive blocked two minutes later then Canaries substitute Alex Pritchard fired inches wide on the break. What a climax to the game.
The five minutes of additional time was met with a groan by the Carrow Road crowd.
It was still all Latics, Norwich clearing into the stands. Wildschut down the right with three of those minutes gone, great cross, Grigg header, McGovern great save. Then Wildschut again, this time on the left, McGovern saves, cleared for a corner. Jacobs corner with the five minutes up, Bogdan in the box, panic but Gomez couldn’t control it and the ball went out of play.