In international football, teams who do not turn up are automatically penalised with a 3-0 defeat. It is a strategy that Wigan might adopt whenever they are due to play at Manchester United.
However, only in the second half did Manchester United display the dominance that the scoreline suggests. They were sent out early by Sir Alex Ferguson after the interval, which is usually a sign of a manager unhappy with his players. If Ferguson did mark his 500th league match at Old Trafford with the 1,012th dressing-room rant of his managerial career, his footballers responded.
Paul Scholes scored on his 700th appearance for Manchester United while, rather more improbably, Alexander Buttner and Nick Powell found the net on their debuts.
It began with an electric piece of skill from Luis Nani, who used this match to suggest his future at Old Trafford might stretch beyond the January transfer window. He sent Shaun Maloney both ways and when his cross was played back to him, he drove the ball across the face of the goal. Ali Al-Habsi palmed it away into Scholes's path and it finished in the roof of the net. Ferguson pointed out he now had scored in his 100th, 300th, 400th and 500th match for United. He had also found the net in his 200th, although this was an own-goal.
For Buttner and Powell this was their first and they will remember it forever. The left-back learnt the game growing up in a travellers' camp in Doetinchem, near the Dutch border with Germany, and he still has something of the street footballer about him, "raw with rough edges to him," was his manager's description, adding: "but he has a great engine to him."
At Vitesse Arnhem he had the reputation of a defender who revels in attack and here, after admitting he had to come to terms with the sheer size of the crowd, he made the second and scored the third. He may have been trying to shoot but Javier Hernandez, who had been struggling for form since the back end of last season, timed his run perfectly to turn it home.
Then Buttner wriggled his way to the byline and drove the ball at Al-Habsi. It deflected off his body and somehow squeezed into the net through the tightest of angles. Those who want to rule it an own goal would have no sense of the romantic.
The fourth was pure Mills and Boon, a shot from 20 yards from the 18-year-old Nick Powell that demonstrated that even into his seventies, Ferguson is still a manager with an eye for a young player.
There were, however, two sour notes. Some Manchester United fans took the first opportunity to ignore their manager's call for a truce with Liverpool over tasteless chants, singing that Scousers revelled in being "victims". Afterwards the club issued a statement, saying: "The manager has made the club's position very clear on the matter. It is now up to the fans to respect that."
The other came when those supporters may have been still settling into their seats. Nani sent Danny Welbeck through on goal, Al Habsi came to meet him, changed his mind and pulled away.
What followed can be described in many ways. It was a soft penalty. Welbeck, who was lucky not to have been sent off for a dreadful tackle on Franco di Santo in stoppage time, took advantage of an opportunity. Or you could say he cheated.
Ferguson has an abhorrence of diving and has upbraided Ruud van Nistelrooy, Cristiano Ronaldo and, more recently, Ashley Young for the practice. He may have to speak to Welbeck who did something remarkably similar at Wembley during England's draw with Ukraine.
Had Michael Oliver been able to call upon the same basic technology available to a rugby referee or a cricket umpire, he would not have awarded a penalty, although, when he did, Al Habsi anticipated Hernandez's spot-kick to ensure that justice of sorts would be done.
Manchester United (4-4-2): Lindegaard; Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidic (Evans, 77), Buttner; Nani, Scholes (Van Persie, 71), Carrick, Giggs (Powell, 71); Hernandez, Welbeck.
Wigan (4-4-2): Al Habsi; Boyce, G Caldwell, Ramis, Figueroa; Maloney (Gomez, 59), McCarthy, McArthur, Beausejour (Jones, 69); Kone, Di Santo.
Referee: Michael Oliver.
Man of the match: Buttner (Manchester United)
Match rating: 7/10
Half-time: 0-0 Att: 75,142Reuse content