Manchester United increased the lead over Arsenal at the head of the Premier League to four points with a routine win at the DW Stadium. Goals from Javier Hernández, Wayne Rooney and Fabio da Silva sealed the points at Wigan Athletic, although the heavy win fails to tell the story of a match in which United was matched for large periods. Indeed, with Wigan spurning two early chances and United scoring three very late goals, the result flatters the visitors.
But the match also ended in controversy, with Wigan manager Roberto Martinez insisting Rooney should have seen red for an early incident with midfielder James McCarthey. The United forward appeared to strike McCarthey in the eighth minute clash. While referee Mark Clattenburg awarded Wigan the free kick he chose not to issue any cards, with Sir Alex Ferguson preparing the way for a media witch hunt post-match.
Still, the win prepares United in the best possible way for the clash with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night. United, now 11 points clear of Manchester City and 12 of Chelsea, could open up a seven point gap in the Premier League with a win in London.
Yet, Ferguson will be thankful that goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar pulled off two great saves in the opening 10 minutes to keep United in the match and set up the victory.
“Wigan were terrific in the first 20 minutes and Van der Sar had to make some great saves,” Ferguson told MUTV.
“Vida and Smalling had to keep sticking their heads in to clear things. It was an uncomfortable time for us. We played really well in the second half and had some fantastic opportunities. We opened them up time and time again and could have scored more. But I’m happy with 4-0.”
Ferguson dropped Dimitar Berbatov to the bench after the striker’s goalless contribution at Marseille last week and ahead of the key Chelsea fixture, affording Hernández a rare United start. It proved an outstanding decision, with the Mexican scoring two very well taken goals.
However, Wigan started the brightest, despite losing on 12 previous occasions to United and conceding 37 goals in the process. Indeed, Martinez’ men crafted two superb chances in the opening minutes. In the best opportunity former Crystal Palace striker Victor Moses pounced on Paul Scholes’ wayward pass only for van der Sar to block the 21-year-old’s effort with less than 10 on the clock.
Yet, United took the lead much against the run of play on the quarter-hour, with Rooney exchanging passes with Nani, before the Portuguese set up Hernández to superbly clip in the opening goal at the near post. The Mexican’s instinct for goals is unsurpassed at the club, although his all round game in some way short of the standards Ferguson will demand.
But Wigan almost equalised as van der Sar again saved superbly, this time from McCarthey who ran on to Hugo Rodallega’s flick. Indeed, the hosts matched United for much of the opening period.
True to historical form with these two sides United ran away with the match after the break. Ferguson’s outfit scored three more but it could have easily been six in an open game. First, Nani slammed a slot against the post after smart work from Rooney and Darren Fletcher, before Maynor Figueroa again tested van der Sar and Moses fired over the bar.
It characterised a game in which both sides sought to attack but wasted chances, with Nemanja Vidic and Chris Smalling both excellent in the heart of United’s defence. Up front Rooney’s frustration grew but at least the former Evertonian sought to influence the game – a sign perhaps of a return to form, while Nani was ubiquitous if frustratingly inconsistent in his delivery at times.
Indeed, United took until the 75th minute to double the advantage with Hernández exchanging passes with Rooney before the 21-year-old Mexican slotted home. Further goals from Rooney – a side footer from substitute Berbatov’s simple square ball – and Fabio da Silva ensured a comfortable if flattering win.
Ferguson praised Hernández’ efforts – the Mexican has now contributed 14 goals, four of them winners, another four opening strikes. Moreover, four United wins in the Premier League away from Old Trafford have all come with goals from the £10 million signing.
“The boy is doing fantastic,” added Ferguson.
“They were two good finishes. If you watch the first one again he bends his run and spins across the defender to the front post to knock it in. He made a great run for the second and Wayne played him in nicely.”
But Sunday’s headlines are dominated by Rooney, with Ferguson accusing the media of wanting the player “hung,” while assistant manager Mike Phelan warned of a press witch hunt against the 25-year-old striker.
“I have had a chance to see it,” added the United boss.
“There is nothing in it. But, what will happen, the question has been asked and because it is Wayne Rooney the press will raise a campaign to get him hung by Tuesday or electrocuted or something like that.
“It is unbelievable. Watch the press. It will be interesting to see it.”
In that Ferguson is undoubtedly right, although there is little ground on which to defend Rooney who – whether deliberate or accidental – caught McCarthey in the face while running past the Wigan midfielder.
The FA may indeed act before Tuesday match with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge - a three match ban is possible if the governing body charges the player with violent conducted. However, the FA also has clear rules on discipline, normally refusing to take retrospective action against a player where the official has both seen and punished the incident on the field of play.
Wigan – 451 – Al Habsi; Gohouri, Alcaraz, G Caldwell, Figueroa; McCarthy, Watson (Gomez 89), N’Zogbia (McArthur 89), Diame, Moses (Di Santo 64); Rodallega
United – 442 – Van der Sar; O’Shea, Smalling, Vidic, Evra; Fletcher, Scholes (Gibson 77), Carrick, Nani (Fabio da Silva 85); Rooney; Hernández (Berbatov 76).
Attendance – 18,100
Man of the Match – Nani
Possession: Wigan 40% – 60% United
Attempts: 10 – 14
On Target: 4 – 9
Corners: 8 – 4
Fouls: 12 – 11