Five-star United crush woeful Wigan

Sir Alex Ferguson has argued for years that if his side are within

touching distance of top spot on New Year’s Day they will take some

stopping. And not only are they only two points adrift of Chelsea,

they have almost achieved parity in the goal difference column too

after another five-goal mauling of the hapless Latics, who seem ill

equipped to survive a relegation scrap. Former Wigan star Antonio

Valencia had a productive night, claiming three assists and scoring

the final Premier League goal of 2009 against his old club. But

Rooney was the main man, opening United’s account with his 15th

goal of the season and getting himself right to the heart of a

performance Wigan could not have complained about if it had brought

the hosts double figures. Long before they turned trophy collection

into an art form, one of the things United liked most was to face

lower rated opponents prepared to take them on at football. They

would leave Old Trafford with the plaudits of Sir Alex Ferguson

ringing in their ears, as well as the cheers of home supporters

ecstatic at witnessing a one-sided goal fest. Clearly, Roberto

Martinez has not been doing his homework. Hammered by five goals on

home soil in August, Martinez made the short journey across Greater

Manchester for the return, committed to the same open style, which

could quite easily get Wigan relegated. The wonder was it took

United almost half an hour to open their account. A flurry just

beforehand had involved Chris Kirkland turning a Rooney blockbuster

wide and Paul Scharner booting a Nemanja Vidic effort of the line.

Following that, Rooney’s audacious shot from the most acute angle

imaginable bounced back to Kirkland off the far post, the Wigan

keeper having been completely bamboozled by the initial effort.

Finally, Dimitar Berbatov, who had started the bombardment by

racing onto Rooney’s through ball and getting chopped down in the

box by Titus Bramble without winning a penalty, fluffed a chip when

he was clean through. At that stage, there must have been a

temptation for Wigan to think they would survive. How foolish that

would have been. It will not cross Ferguson’s attention that much

but an entire nation of football watchers is following his main man

at the moment, crossing their fingers he can deliver World Cup

glory to England. Undoubtedly he is having his best season and it

was the former Everton striker who stole in at the near post to

meet Rafael Da Silva’s cross and steer it past Kirkland to break

the deadlock. Three minutes later Michael Carrick swept home the

second after Valencia had shown enough vision to cut a pass back

into his path rather than drill a cross into crowded penalty area.

On nights like these, the former Wigan man is a powerful force. And

with Rafael charging forward on the overlap, the Latics could not

resist. Rafael’s only previous goal came in a disappointing defeat

at Arsenal last year. This time, after collecting Darren Fletcher’s

pass and showing nimble feet to create space for himself on the

edge of the area before drilling past Kirkland, he had more of a

reason to celebrate with twin Fabio, who pumped the air with joy

from the bench, although he was ultimately to share a pitch with

his brother for the first time in a league game. A change of keeper

at the break as Mike Pollitt replaced the luckless Kirkland, failed

to bring a change of fortune for the visitors. Valencia skipped

past Maynor Figueroa as if he was not there, then crossed into the

space Hendry Thomas was supposed to be filling before he fell over.

Berbatov controlled instantly and stabbed his shot into the far

corner. Memories of that nine-goal humiliation at Tottenham were

coming back to haunt Martinez and his men. If Rooney had managed to

find the net when he got on the end of Berbatov’s chip instead of

thundering a header against the bar, a repeat may have been on the

cards. Instead, United were forced to wait until the 76th minute,

after Ferguson had made a triple substitution, for Rooney to drive

into the heart of Wigan’s defences before sending Valencia through

superbly to chip home a fifth.