Berba treble takes United level

City still hold the advantage on goal difference, but even that

lead was cut to five by United’s second successive five-goal

triumph. It was tough luck on Wigan, whose chance disappeared once

Conor Sammon was sent off for catching Michael Carrick with his

elbow just before the break. Already leading through Park Ji-sung’s

early goal, United took maximum advantage. Berbatov doubled their

lead before half-time, then scored twice more, bringing back

memories of his form in the first half of last season, when he

claimed three match balls. On this occasion, he owed the honour to

Wayne Rooney, who stepped aside to let him take the penalty after

Park had been fouled by Antolin Alcaraz. The excellent Antonio

Valencia was also on target to ensure Sir Alex Ferguson will be

handed the perfect 70th birthday present of a place on top of the

table should his side overcome Blackburn on New Year’s Eve, given

City are not in action until 24 hours later. If there was one game

where Ferguson might not have been too alarmed to field a defence

including Michael Carrick and Antonio Valencia, this was it. Wigan

had not managed so much as a draw in 13 previous meetings between

the sides and the combined score from their past four encounters

was 16-0. United soon added to their tally as Patrice Evra slalomed

his way into the Wigan box, then picked out Park Ji-sung with a

neat cut-back. The South Korean had enough space to pick his spot,

into the top right corner, well out of Ali Al Habsi’s reach. United

continued to create chances at regular intervals, with Nani,

Berbatov and Darron Gibson all trying their luck. However, Wigan

were not content to play the meek visitors and with Victor Moses

building on recent impressive performances and Ronnie Stam

exploiting the hosts’ lack of an orthodox left-sided midfield

player, created just as many chances as their hosts early on.

Sammon wasted the best, turning onto David Jones’ pass but drilling

a shot straight at Anders Lindegaard. The Irishman’s day quickly

got much worse, and any chance Wigan had disappeared. There is no

doubt Sammon’s arm did end up in Carrick’s face, offering referee

Phil Dowd the opportunity to send him off. However, it did appear

the Wigan man was attempting to use it as a barrier to shield a

bouncing ball from his opponent. There was no malice, and very

little force, behind the action and Latics chief Roberto Martinez

was not on his own in believing his side had been harshly treated.

And, as good sides do, United quickly exploited the situation. Had

injury not struck him down in August, Gibson might well have moved

on in the summer. As it was, Ferguson was probably glad to have him

available for this one. The Irishman delivered a teasing cross from

the right flank, which ended up with Berbatov. Making only his

second Premier League start of the season, United’s record signing

took some time to get the ball under control. However, he had the

strength to hold off Antolin Alcaraz and drilled his shot past Al

Habsi. The departure of Evans at half-time led to Evra becoming

possibly becoming United’s shortest ever central defender. He was

limping too not long afterwards, although that proved to be a false

alarm. There did not seem much wrong with the Frenchman when he

went straight through the back of Moses anyway. Jones curled the

free-kick narrowly wide, which turned out to be Wigan’s last

opportunity before United struck again. Valencia was having a

quietly effective game and his prodded pass left Berbatov with

enough space and time to smash his shot beyond Al Habsi. Having

fallen so far behind Manchester City in the goal difference stakes,

United sensed it was time to start making up some ground.

Valencia’s excellent performance continued when he drilled his

first Premier League goal of the season into the bottom left

corner. Then, after Park was chopped down in the box by Alcaraz,

substitute Rooney let Berbatov finish off his hat-trick.