|photo by wwarby||via PhotoRee|
It's Chicharito, Rooney and Nani that Sir Alex has picked to provide an offensive spark at Wigan, opting to rest a certain Bulgarian in advance of Tuesday's critical test at Stamford Bridge. Nani begins the game on the left, twinned by Fletcher on the right, and United open in a 4-4-2 that is relatively rarely seen away from home this season. Wigan begin the game confidfently, and only a stuck-in Nemanja Vidic tackle at the top of the18 yard box saves an unmarked man in on goal for the home side in the early going.
In fact, the most notable moment in the first eight minutes for the visitors arrives in the form of an uncalled for elbow thrown by Wayne Rooney, directed at the head of Wigan midfielder James McCarthy. Rooney is lucky not to be cautioned by referee Clattenburg, and may receive retroactive punishment if the FA decides to review the incident later this week. It's almost 10 minutes before the Reds create an offensive chance of any kind, with Darren Fletcher narrowly missing Chicharito on a pull back into the middle of the Wigan box.
Paul Scholes then makes a rare and horrendous mistake, ceding the ball to Victor Moses near his own goal, but Van der Sar bails out his teammate and comes up big with his shoulder to deny Wigan the lead. At the other end, Chicharito is sprung free but Maynor Figueroa makes a goal saving tackle to strip the Mexican of the ball. It's wide open and back and forth, with the United defense in particular showing some early nerves.
Then out of nothing, something: a Wayne Rooney pass sends Nani through on a quick counter-attack, and when Nani picks out Chicharito it's a shock 1-nil lead to the visitors. It's Chicharito's eighth goal in the league, which is impressive enough; that he's scored that many times from only twelve shots on-target makes his achievement even more clinical.
To Wigan, though, it all water off a ducks' back, as they come right back at the other end, and it's Van der Sar to the rescue again, the Dutchman coming up huge against McCarthy for his second stonewall block in the game's first 20 minutes. Roberto Martinez's boys seem more than up for the challenge this afternoon, and it certainly feels as if United are going to need more than the one goal they've managed to win the contest. Wigan are feisty, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see one of the two teams have someone sent to the showers early if this behavior continues.
United is unlucky not to double their lead at the half hour mark, as Rooney dishes off to Nani on yet another imressive counter, but the Portuguese wideman is denied by the woodwork with Al-Habsi beaten. Two minutes later and Nani is just wide of the mark, and United appear to have finally found their sea legs at the DW Stadium. The game meanders back and forth with little of the tempo that marked the early going. Wigan pile on the corners -- seven for the home side against only one for the visitors to this point -- but United are looking steadier in their defense and resolve as the match approaches halftime.
Figueroa opens the second half action with a cracking strike from distance, but once again Van der Sar is more than up to the task. United are reduced to pumping the ball long on clearances and looking for rare counter-attack opportunities as Wigan continue the pressure. It's been a strange season for United, lacking in creativity and vision, and Sir Alex must be hoping a workmanlike performance is enough to see them through this afternoon.
Nani misses chance after chance as United build some sustained pressure for the first time all game, with the last opportunity blown forcefully into the side netting. At the 60 minute mark it's Nani again, and when Al-Habsi spills the rebound it only serves to illustrate Rooney's failings in front of net this season, as the Englishman is forced to dish away from goal and toward Fletcher, who offers only a weak roller that is stopped on the line.
The clock pushes on, and it's growing increasinlgy frustrating for the Reds, as they are creating opportunity after opportunity with just the final touch missing, and a 1 - nil scoreline is beginning to loom large over the grounds. Just when the pressure is almost unbearable, Chicharito conjures another piece of Mexican magic to decide the game. Van der Sar offers another fine clearance, and when Rooney passes in Hernandez, the Little Pea is in by his lonseome on goal, and it's quickly nine goals in thirteen shots for Hernandez, with three points now surely in the bag for United.
Enter Berbatov and Gibson, but it's Rooney who adds to the lead, with the Bulgarian unselfishly passing to the wholly unmarked Rooney to put United up by three. The final scoreline belies the uncomfortable nature of the first 75 minutes, with Fabio piling on a few minutes later for United's third goal in twelve minutes, and it's now 4-0 to the good guys.
United see out the game in dominating fashion, and it's one down, two to go as the pressure is relieved until Tuesday afternoon at Stamford Bridge.