Inevitably, United’s game against Wigan was always going to be overshadowed by the much awaited return of Wayne Rooney to Old Trafford since his contract saga. However with United’s form being relatively unconvincing of late, and our title rivals dropping points it was crucial for the reds to get 3 points on the board with games against Arsenal and Chelsea looming. The out of form Dimitar Berbatov couldn’t even get a place on the bench, instead being replaced by Federico Macheda on the back of his impressive goal against Villa last week. He was partnered up front by Gabriel Obertan, another player with a point to prove after spending much of his United career on the periphery of the first team.
United laboured in the first half, as Wigan proved their resilience by successfully getting men behind the ball and preventing United from opening them up. Wigan nearly sprung a huge shock as N’Zogiba’s mazy run was thwarted by the intervention of Van Der Sar who laid down the standard to United’s new goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard. After much toil, United broke the deadlock on the brink of half time, after Park’s pin point cross, Evra stooped in at the back post to grab himself a rare goal and put United into a much needed lead. Half time was made even sweeter for United as news filtered through that Chelsea were behind at Saint Andrews, emphasising United’s need to kill off the game.
The second half however was merely the sideshow to the main attraction of Rooney’s return, although it was not short of incident. The big moment came on 56 minutes, as Macheda made way for Rooney who was greeted by a mixture of cheers, boos and chants of ‘Rooney’. As ever though, Ferguson handled the situation with great acumen by bringing on Scholes at the same time to reduce some of the spotlight on Rooney. Rooney’s arrival corresponded with Wigan’s total self implosion, as on the hour, Alcaraz cynically hacked Fletcher to receive his second yellow and marching orders. He was closely followed by Rodellega, who was shown a straight red for a reckless two footed lunge the like of which has no place in the game. Down to 9 men, Wigan could have been excused for fearing the worst, however United never really capitalised on the extra men advantage, with Rooney coming close twice to capping his return in style. Despite his only brief cameo, it was clear for all to see that whether you love him or hate him, United need a fully fit and firing Rooney if we are to seriously challenge for major honours this season.
However, the duty of killing the game fell to United’s new star man Chicharito who stole the show again, as on 77 minutes he met a delightful cross from the impressive Rafael and stooped low to head United level with Chelsea on points. Again United never really got out of 2nd gear, and on another day could have been punished for being wasteful in front of goal. However, with Chelsea losing again and their season starting to spiral downwards winning is of the utmost importance to keep on the pressure. With Rooney returning, and hopefully to his form of last season, and Giggs due back against Rangers, United are beginning to silence the doubters once again as we steadily go about our business. For me, the most crucial element to our title chances is the ability of our back 4 to stay fit, already our early season tendency to leak soft goals has disappeared with the reinstating of Ferdinand and Vidic at our core. The importance of a fit back four was there for all to see last season as we totally imploded during the Christmas period due to injuries and as Chelsea are demonstrating now. Next for United is a trip to Ibrox, where Fergie will expect to see us win the group and progress to the next stage of the Champions League.