Dimitar Berbatov delivered a late Christmas present to United fans, scoring three in a 5-0 demolition of 10-men Wigan, to send Ferguson’s team joint top with Manchester City, albeit behind on goal difference.
Park Ji Sung and Antonio Valencia also got on the scoresheet, as Wigan were furious with referee Phil Dowd, whose decision to send off Conor Sammon virtually sealed Roberto Martinez’ men destiny.
United though were architects of their own success and the scoreline didn’t flatter United, as they continue an impressive run of form that has seen them scoring 16 goals in the last four games.
On the back of a 5-0 win at Fulham on Wednesday, Ferguson fielded a very unusual line-up, with the late withdrawals of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling adding to an already long list of injuries. Lindegaard kept his spot between the posts, as Carrick shifted in the middle of the back four, alongside Jonny Evans, with Valencia and Evra at fullbacks. The midfield was picked on form as well as necessity, with Giggs and Nani confirmed after the Fulham game and Park and Gibson coming into the team. Hernandez and Berbatov replaced Rooney and Welbeck up front.
Wigan are yet to take a point off United in the Premier League era and they got off to a terrible start as, after just eight minutes, Evra ghosted past two defenders before pulling the ball back for Park, who calmly side-footed it past Al-Habsi.
Sammon had a chance to equalize almost immediately, but he failed to make any sort of contact with Stam’s cross and United escaped. That would prove to be Wigan’s only chance of the afternoon as they failed, yet again, to score from open play at Old Trafford.
Martinez’s afternoon then got even worse as Phil Dowd inexplicably sent Sammon off after the striker’s arm had caught Carrick in the face, as the players jostled for position. It was probably one of the softest red cards of the season and, while Sammon should have known better than let his arm flying across Carrick’s face, it was definitely not worth a yellow card, let alone a red.
United wasted no time to make the numerical superiority count as Berbatov collected Gibson’s cross, before holding off Alcaraz and blasting the ball in the net with a left foot volley.
Not many teams have came back from a two goals gap at Old Trafford, surely not after being a man down at half-time and, surely, not playing as Wigan did today.
With the game virtually sealed, Ferguson replace Evans with Fryer before the restart, with Evra moving alongside Carrick in what was surely United’s strangest centre-backs pairing of the last decade.
While he might be just a makeshift centre-back, Carrick displayed great composure and his passing range added another dimension to United’s back four, defenders able to play the ball seem to be just as fashionable as iPads these days.
Berbatov, awarded a rare start, showed glimpses of his class as he put United 3-0 up on the hour mark. The mercurial Bulgarian received Valencia’s pass, before turning as he controlled the ball, and then toe-poked it into the top corner.
Rooney and Macheda replaced Nani and Giggs, as United coasted through the last 25 minutes, with Wigan eager to get back in the dressing room as quickly as possible.
Fergie’s teams have never been renowned for showing mercy and this version is no exception, particularly as any goal could be crucial in terms of goal difference, and United kept going forward, adding another two goals to their tally.
Valencia, one of United’s in-form performers in the last few games, saw his shot across the keeper end up in the bottom corner as he scored against his former club. Three minutes later Alcaraz tripped Park just inside the area and Rooney gave Berbatov the chance of taking the match ball home by completing his hat trick.
Ferguson had made clear that he believes that United will always have a chance if they’re within 4-5 points of the summit by New Year’s Day. With 8 wins in the last 9 league games, United are joint top, having cut City’s five point lead.
United reaching form over the Christmas period after having been written off in November? If it sounds like a movie that English football has already seen, that’s because it is.
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