United close after Carrick cracker
Michael Carrick set up a probable Manchester United title party at Old Trafford on Saturday with a late winner to sink Wigan 2-1 at the JJB. Carrick sealed another comeback win when he drove home John O'Shea's pass from the edge of the box, leaving United a point away from completing a hat-trick of Premier League triumphs. Only once during Sir Alex Ferguson's 10 previous successes have United done it in front of their own fans. Now all they must do is avoid defeat against Arsenal to render a last-day trip to Hull, for the Red Devils at least, meaningless. If Carrick was the match-winner, Carlos Tevez was again the hero, producing an impudent back-heel minutes after his introduction as a substitute to peg the Latics back. Steve Bruce's men gave their all after taking a deserved first-half lead through Hugo Rodallega. But the Wigan boss knows more than most, Manchester United are not beaten that easily. Any pretensions United had of being in for an easy evening were blasted out of the window after only two minutes. The Red Devils' record against Wigan may have read eight wins from eight attempts, to an overall score of 23-3, and the Latics might still have been looking for their first league win against a top-four team, but Bruce was in no mood to let his old club saunter to their 18th league title. Antonio Valencia, heavily linked with a move to Old Trafford as a summer replacement for Cristiano Ronaldo if he leaves for Real Madrid, also had a need to make an impression. The Ecuador international certainly showed a pretty swift turn of pace to charge clear of Nemanja Vidic once he had nipped in front of O'Shea. He did not have the finish to match, though, and, with Edwin van der Sar advancing, failed to find the target. If that failure was bad, Wayne Rooney's was even worse. Set up by Dimitar Berbatov's deft chip, the England star, selected ahead of Tevez, rose well enough but got his header all wrong despite being totally unmarked in the centre of the six-yard box. Carrick went close shortly afterwards and it seemed only a matter of time before the visitors opened their account and strolled to their usual victory. Wigan, though, have proved at various stages of this campaign they have some pretty decent players. Rodallega is one, the Colombian who arrived in the north west as a virtual unknown but has a sharp eye for goal to go with his strength. And, after outmuscling Vidic, who was so convinced he should have had a free-kick he was eventually told by referee Rob Styles he would be sent off unless he let it go, he eventually located the loose ball and drilled it low past Van der Sar. Rodallega had other opportunities, too, but then again so did United, Rooney scooping one shot over after an intricate series of passes involving Paul Scholes, Berbatov and Ronaldo. It was one of those nights for the world footballer of the year. Too much arm-waving, not enough end product, two of his trademark free-kicks belted into the Wigan wall. At the start of the second half Ronaldo did manage to create a chance for himself, only to drag a shot badly wide. With the momentum continuing to favour Wigan, Ferguson introduced Tevez just before the hour - the South American having been left out, proving whatever else his one-man demonstration at Old Trafford on Sunday achieved, it did not influence team selection. Where Tevez can leave a genuine impression is on the field. And, just as on Sunday, his timing was perfect, diverting Carrick's low shot into the net with a deliberate flick of his heel. The glee on the Argentinian's face was at odds with that of a man desperate to leave Old Trafford, the urgency of Ronaldo's demands for him to get back for the restart at odds with the attitude of a man whose mind has already drifted elsewhere. Mind you, Ferguson was not too impressed 10 minutes from time when Tevez rolled a neat pass to Ronaldo, who promptly blazed over as glory beckoned. Yet how many times do United score important goals late on? In their world, 10 minutes is an eternity. Carrick needed only six.