London: Manchester United were treated to a New Year’s Day present as they eased past Wigan to stay seven points clear of Manchester City at the top of the Premier League.
The hosts lacked the intensity required to beat Sir Alex Ferguson’s side and were picked off by the brilliance of Robin van Persie and Chicharito. The Mexican got two goals to add to his last minute winner on Boxing Day while van Perise was imperious throughout.
The game was actually over as a contest before half-time, as United sauntered into 2013 with the most comfortable three points they’ll win away from Old Trafford this season.
Even before Chicharito scored the opening goal in the 35th minute, the striker had the ball in net. Loitering on the shoulder of the last defender, he was found in behind by van Persie and easily beat Ali Al Habsi but was correctly ruled out for offside.
That was to serve as a warning of things to come, with United scoring twice in eight minutes to seal the points before the break. Referee Andre Marriner played an excellent advantage to allow the visitors to continue attacking; Jonny Evans found Patrice Evra whose shot across goal was criminally parried back into the six-yard box by Al Habsi, with Chicharito poaching home ahead of Maynor Figueroa.
Up until that point Roberto Martinez’s Latics had been dogged without truly threatening David De Gea – their only shot was an optimistic effort from Jean Beausejour – and were guilty of playing too narrow.
Despite three players falling over in the build-up to the second, ultimately killer, goal, there was very little Wigan could have done to stop van Persie. In the 43rd minute, Chicharito, who was keen to stretch the game and pull the three central defenders out of position all afternoon, capitalised on two slips to find the Dutchman in the box. Still with a lot to do, the striker surprisingly brought the ball onto his right foot before guiding an exquisite finish into the corner to send the fairly lifeless away support delirious.
It ought to have been more after the break, but United were satisfied to play in second gear and take the points without stretching themselves too strenuously.
Having said that, on the one occasion Wigan looked like scoring, United were relatively fortunate to keep their 2-0 lead. Franco Di Santo’s cross come shot found its way to Arouna Kone at the back post; he crashed it into the net only to be flagged for offside. The decision showed the grey areas in the law, with Kone’s body off but his legs on. Either call could justifiably be labelled correct, but for a struggling side it was always going to be chalked off.
That moment woke the league leaders up briefly. Rafael forced his way into the final third and was brought down25 yards from goal. Van Persie stepped up, saw his shot blocked, but there was Chicharito again to pounce and drive his second goal past Al Habsi, who had no chance, before van Persie finished the rout late on.
First Published: Tuesday, January 01, 2013, 22:53