Wigan 0 United 5: Verdict
NOSTALGIA was heavy in the air at Wigan. The Latics programme had a six-page special on their 1996-97 Division Two championship-winning season. For United fans jammed into the away end at the DW Stadium the memories were far more recent but at half-time on Saturday they were probably recalling them wistfully. They'd watched two heady title moments in that section in the last 15 months. In May 2008, the Reds overcame Steve Bruce's side to win 2-0 and seal the Premier League crown on the final day. Three months ago, they witnessed the champions-elect at Wigan set up an Old Trafford title clincher with victory. What wasn't lost on them was the fact that it was Cristiano Ronaldo whose calm penalty conversion in 2008 broke the deadlock and settled the nerves and last May it was an audacious Carlos Tevez flick that levelled it for the Reds after going behind in the first half. Two pivotal moments at the stadium provided by the two United departures of the summer. Having just watched Turf Moor revisited in the first half, the Reds' camp headed for the dressing room at half-time looking like they were sucking a lemon. Behind the Press Box, the Reds' chief executive David Gill in the VIP seats must have been seriously wondering if Sir Alex Ferguson might make a late U-turn and demand the chequebook was dusted off before the transfer deadline. But normal service at Wigan's HQ was resumed by the Reds with a sensational second-half power-play - polished off with a shoal of goals. United's critics had been scattered again - and less than 24 hours after Fergie was telling the media that he wanted to see the champions's goal-difference get back on track. United's three main strikers responded to Fergie's brief by taking great delight in scoring. But there is still that slight concern that United are still just a Wayne Rooney slump or injury away from the `crisis' word being uttered again. The goal centurion has taken on board the Ronaldo talisman mantle with relish. Once again, as at Turf Moor, it looked in the first half like missed chances were going to blight the Reds again. Chance Just 12 months ago Darren Fletcher began the season like a train scoring in the first two matches. But this term, the midfielder has struggled in front of goal. A shocker against Birmingham and after four minutes at Wigan he was nicely placed to tuck in an early opener but had his close effort blocked. Not to worry, four minutes later another excellent touch from Dimitar Berbatov rolled the ball invitingly in Paul Scholes' path. Is there any United player you would rather have been steaming on to that chance than such a sweet ball striker as Scholes? The United bench and the Reds' fans were almost celebrating as his boot struck the ball. Astonishingly, it ended up high in the stand among the disturbing amount of empty seats among the Latics' support. It breathed life into Wigan and with Paul Scharner and Titus Bramble galvanised, newcomer Mohamed Diame looking comfortable and confident, plus Jordi Gomez wandering around dangerously between United's defence and midfield nobody would surely have risked even 10 pence on a 5-0 finish in the champions' favour. Keeper Ben Foster kept United in it and then Rooney took charge. Antonio Valencia had been a pretty subdued figure on his return to Wigan. But after he agitated his old fans after claiming a clout in the face, he responded quickly to their boos by planting the 56th minute cross on to Rooney's head. This time Bramble and Scharner were exposed. Foster had to pull off another excellent save from Rodallega a minute later but after that chance went begging, Wigan fell apart. United mercilessly seized on their hosts' collapse of confidence. Just 20 minutes after evacuating their changing room early no doubt after a few choice words from Fergie, they were 3-0 ahead with the impressive Berbatov lifting home the second and Rooney ramming in his second. It would have made a nice symmetry after opening his United goal account in 2004 with a hat-trick against Fenerbahce, for Rooney to celebrate his 100 with another match ball. He couldn't manage it in the seven minutes before he made way for Michael Owen but at least it gave the summer free-capture a chance to get his Old Trafford tally up and running. With Wigan drained, and the Reds rampant it would have been a touch worrying, had Owen not broken his duck. But Nani's smart pass was finished off in typical Owen style. The winger who provided the assist then completed Wigan's misery with a clinical free-kick.
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