With the festive footballing calendar in full swing, United welcomed Wigan Athletic to Old Trafford looking for a late christmas gift of three points. The Latics have become somewhat whipping boys for United since the sides promotion to the Premier league, with the reds having beaten their north west neighbours on every single meeting to date, amassing 45 goals in the process. Omens then were good for United, who were looking to build upon 2 emphatic displays against QPR and Fulham, albeit with a squad ravaged by injury, requiring Michael Carrick and Antonio Valencia to make up a patchwork back four. Rare starts for Dimitar Berbatov and Darron Gibson also gave the indication Fergie was confident of a result, and was taking the opportunity to rest his squad ahead of a run of key games in the new year.
Wigan were unlikely to be pushovers after taking points off both Liverpool and Chelsea in recent weeks, but an in form United were quick off the mark and found an early goal through Ji Sung Park, who capitalised upon some fine play from Patrice Evra on the left hand side to steer the Frenchman’s cross home into the far corner. Wigan responded well to going behind however, and responded to the early deficit in spirited fashion in what was largely an even first half contest, although rarely testing Anders Lindegaard. A good encounter was spoiled however on the stroke of half time, as Connor Sammon was given his marching orders by referee Phil Dowd for apparently elbowing Michael Carrick, although replays showed the decision was extremely harsh, with the striker merely using his hand to back into Carrick.
With the man advantage, United were quick to capitalise, and minutes after the sending off secured a 2 goal and virtually unassailable lead, Berbatov latching onto Gibson’s cross, holding off Alcaraz and finishing past Al Habsi with his left foot. A long second half loomed for the visitors, as United with vigour and confidence oozing from them set about dismantling Wigan’s fragile resistance. Berbatov added to his tally on the hour mark with the pick of the goals, turning with elegance on the edge of the box, before toe poking the ball into the top corner for his 3rd goal in 2 games for United. More was to come, as makeshift right back come winger Antonio Valencia got onto the score sheet with 15 minutes remaining, collecting Carrick’s lay off before rifling his shot powerfully into the bottom corner securing another resounding United victory. The icing on the cake came 3 minutes later, as Park was felled in the area by a clumsy Alcaraz challenge, allowing Berbatov to step up from the spot to slot home his hat trick and surely play his way back into the United first team reckoning after months in isolation.
Cameo’s from Rooney and Macheda failed to bring more goals in the dying stages, but with rivals Chelsea and City both failing to win, United reduce the gap at the top to merely goal difference going into the new year, with the reds playing some of their best football of the season. Next up, the visit of strugglers Blackburn Rovers to Old Trafford on new years eve.
Lindegaard – 6 Another clean sheet on quiet day.
Valencia – 7 Defensively sound, offensively magnificent.
Carrick – 7 Relished extra space offered in defence.
Evans – 5 Subbed off at HT with injury.
Evra – 7 Superb assist for opening goal.
Nani – 6 Quieter afternoon for the Portugese winger.
Gibson – 6 Handled a dire Wigan midfield well.
Giggs – 7 Touch of class throughout.
Park – 7 Bundle of energy in first half and thoroughly deserved goal.
Hernandez – 6 Eased his way back into first team fold.
Berbatov – 9 MOTM – Hat trick containing quality finishing and class.
Fryers- 6 Settling into first team well.
Macheda – 5
Rooney – 5