Good old Wigan – you can set your watch by them. Once the clocks go forward so do they.

Arouna Koné's late winner, his second in successive matches here, made it three victories in four, a run that has hauled Wigan out of the Premier League relegation zone with their usual timely precision. This week a year ago they won at Anfield, which proved to be the first of seven victories in their final nine league fixtures that sealed an eighth top-flight season.

The portents are good for a ninth, and not just based on previous form in dashing for the finishing tape. There is a healthy competition for places ahead of a maiden FA Cup semi-final appearance at Wembley, this was a first home clean sheet for Wigan this season and in Koné they have a striker in stellar form.

Koné's 10th Premier League goal of the campaign, and sixth in six matches in all competitions, arrived nine minutes from the end of a tense contest when Wigan made light of the referee, Howard Webb, frustrating an initial attempt at a break-out.

James McCarthy won back possession and the ball was relayed on to the boots of Shaun Maloney and Jordi Gomez, whose cute pass preceded a thrashing drive that went through the fingers of the Norwich goalkeeper, Lee Camp, like a hurricane through a haystack.

"I knew this was going to be a tricky fixture because we had never been able to win a game before after an international break," said the Wigan manager, Roberto Martínez. "We had 13 players away this week and that contributed to us not being our normal selves in possession. We certainly weren't as stylish as we usually are."

Wigan would arguably be further up the table than 17th on goal difference had they not lost their predator Koné for January's African Nations Cup. During his absence with Ivory Coast, Wigan played four winless matches against Fulham, Sunderland, Stoke and Southampton, a quartet of fixtures they would ordinarily have viewed as a potential bounty.

Koné struck the last-gasp goal that sank Newcastle a fortnight ago and also scored in victory at Reading last month. "That goal was as good as you will see in this league, and the finish was just what he deserved. For any striker that comes to the Premier League it takes time to settle in but Arouna never had that period, his form was very good from the start," Martínez added of the £2.7m signing from Levante.

Wigan – for whom Callum McManaman shrugged off an ankle knock to play three-quarters of the game in the aftermath of that unpunished tackle on Newcastle's Massadio Haidara –struggled to create meaningful chances against a Norwich team gently free-falling through the top-flight.

Given their record of one win in 14 since beating Wigan at Carrow Road in December, there was an inevitability about the visitors setting themselves up for a draw.

However, the outstanding Antolin Alcaraz had a header hacked off the line by Jonny Howson and McCarthy drove narrowly wide after manufacturing space for himself on the edge of the area to fire a warning of the precarious nature of a goalless scoreline.

Norwich, with five goals in 2013, had precious little time to muster a response.

"I thought we'd done enough to get a point. Sometimes you have to hold your hand up if you've been beaten well but no one could say that," said the Norwich manager, Chris Hughton, whose side are on 34 points and still in need of a couple of wins to secure a position guaranteeing survival.

"We've got seven matches left but four are at home." Hughton said. "Clubs like ourselves are stronger there but I thought this was a good opportunity to pick up points."