Maloney's strike lifts Wigan as limp United get jitters


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The Independent Online

At this time of the season, at the top of the table and with rivals falling away, Manchester United are programmed not to show a glimpse of weakness. Defeat to Wigan with the Premier League trophy almost in their grasp? Call the trophy engravers off for now.

This was only the fourth defeat of the league season for Sir Alex Ferguson's team but this was not a fluke, pulled out of nowhere by a relegation-threatened Wigan. This was a richly deserved defeat that will have stung the United manager with the low quality of his team's performance.

The winner, struck by Shaun Maloney five minutes after half-time, was a brilliant goal, and one that Wigan fully merited. They had been denied a goal in the first half by the referee Phil Dowd, who chose to penalise Gary Caldwell for backing into David De Gea in the goalmouth during a corner in the moments before Victor Moses headed the ball in.

What happened to United? They were dire at times. Wayne Rooney was substituted with 25 minutes left – he went off meekly and looked exhausted. It was not Ryan Giggs' best day either, likewise Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia. United were unrecognisable from the team that has taken a grip of the title race and torn it from Manchester City's grasp.

As the goals flew in at the Etihad Stadium, so United seemed to wilt. They remain five points clear of City with five matches to play but once again that Manchester derby at City on 30 April takes on a greater significance. United have demoralised their rivals with their sheer relentlessness but that spell has been broken.

As for Wigan, it was one of the performances of a lifetime. Maloney was an outstanding performer but so too were the likes of Jean Beausejour, Moses and Caldwell. It is their first point against United in 14 games in the Premier League – and their first time out of the relegation zone since mid-December.

United created nothing in the half and had been outnumbered all over the pitch by Roberto Martinez's imaginative formation. With three centre-halves and a midfield of four, supported by Moses and Maloney just behind Franco Di Santo, Wigan were dominant. It was not until the 19th minute that United had an attempt on goal, a Giggs shot saved by Ali Al Habsi.

Moses won the corner that led to the goal that never was, dribbling brilliantly around Jonny Evans and hitting a shot that was blocked by Rio Ferdinand. From the corner the striker stole in towards the near post and headed the ball firmly past De Gea.