Wigan Athletic 0-4 Manchester United
“Doesn’t ‘e look like somebody stuck ‘is ‘ead in a vice?” My Aunty Joan said on the phone as she made her happy way out of the Warwick Road side of Old Trafford among friends.
Well, he did, didn’t he? Poor Roberto Martínez has got one of those long Patagonian faces that could well have been damaged by abusive parents early on; but, on the day, I’ll wager he was just plain miserable. Manchester United handled a tired-looking Wigan Athletic side with an assured, clever display such as fans haven’t seen since the double season of 2007-2008. More than equal to the task in the first half of the first half, the Latics, definitely United’s equal in central midfield, seemed to genuinely have the stuffing knocked out of them by Javíer Hernandez’s first goal in the 35th minute. Toothless up front, Wigan had nothing to offer once they managed to make it past United’s forty yard line. Ironically, their upcoming loaner of United’s brand-new Chilean teenage goal scoring wonder boy, Angel Henríquez, may be exactly what the doctor ordered to get their manager, the long-faced Roberto Martínez’s Jekyll & Hyde team over the relegation hump for the rest of the season.
Sir Alex Ferguson is surely ecstatic to see his team keep things at the back tight for two games in a row; not bad, although a run of clean sheets over the rest of the campaign is the true objective. It was a very good sign to see center back Jonny Evans, ploddingly clueless and repeatedly and ridiculously caught out of position so often, getting it right. Well, along with the ineptitude of Wigan’s Franco Di Santo. To see Evans and goalkeeper David De Gea screaming at one another–and sometimes geed up from a distance by barks from the old warrior Rio Ferdinand –was wonderful. How and why it’s taken so long to deal with something so obvious makes me ponder the observational nous of United’s goal keeping coach Eric Steele and Fergie’s coaching Frick & Frack, Mike Phelan and René Meulensteen.
United were slow to get going. Like an engine needing a light tune-up, United’s deadly duo for the day of Hernández and Van Persie each managed to botch a few beautiful setups, particularly from Ashley Young, who seemed to genuinely revel in the absence of Valencia and his more direct rival Nani. After being caught painfully offside three times and squandering a handful of half-chances, Chicharito’s ruthless acumen could not be denied. His first was an atypical beauty. With Wigan’s goalie Ali Al-Habsi already a complete nervous wreck at the behest of the relentless threat from the flanks of Young and Giggs, the Mexican striker was waiting like a blood-sniffing vampire as the Omani weakly parried a Patrice Evra shot, all coiled, cocked and ready to fire the opener home, he pounced on the chance gratefully , making no mistake, side footing it home.
Then, with Wigan suddenly holding on desperately two minutes before the half time whistle, Robin Van Persie hoovered up a beautiful pass from Hernández. What followed was a moment of pure elegance as the brilliant Dutchman switched the ball seamlessly to his right foot, fooling defender Iván Ramis who was completely committed to the striker’s left, delaying execution for a frozen moment as the whole Latics back line followed Ramis to the left before firing a curver inside the post to make it 2-0. Truly a thing of beauty. A great great goal!
More relaxed in the second half, United’s third goal came about as a nervous Wigan defense panicked, expecting a left-footed curver of a free kick from Van Persie, a short free-kick from Giggs was played into Van Persie’s path. His shot hit the wall. The ball then took an awkward bounce to Hernández, who pivoted brilliantly on his left toe before firing home on the turn with his right instep to make it 3-0 in the 63rd minute.
United may have yawned their casual way through the rest of the match, but you always felt they were good for one more goal and it came in the 88th minute when striker substitute Danny Welbeck, on for a tired Ashley Young, slalomed his way through Wigan’s tired back line in the box before turning a sweet tee-up into Van Persie’s path from the right. Just six yards out, Van Persie brutally slammed home a final ruthless dagger to bring his total for the season thus far to seventeen.
Having won eight out of their last nine league matches, the Red Devils maintained their grip on top spot in the table still seven points ahead of Manchester City at the end of a challenging Christmas schedule. A super way for manager Sir Alex Ferguson to celebrate reaching the grand old age of 71 on New Year’s Eve.