Berbatov wreaks havoc after harsh sending-off

Manchester United 5 Wigan Athletic 0

Old Trafford

The Manchester City players who are filmed icing a "1-6" scoreline onto a Christmas cake for the club's seasonal video knew last night just how far they are from applying the finishing touches to the title campaign. A month ago they travelled to Anfield with the potential to go seven points clear and extend their goal difference on the champions to beyond 14. Now a mere five goals divide the two sides who will surely contest the title and Sir Alex Ferguson can mark his 70th birthday on New Year's Eve by going back to the top by picking up points at home to Blackburn, 24 hours before City play at Sunderland.

"It's a long season," Ferguson said last night after referee Phil Dowd's miserably bad decision to reduce Wigan Athletic to 10 men assisted Manchester United to maintain their extraordinarily profitable return against the club – 46 goals in 14 games now. "If we are top of the league or joint top with City on New Year's Day I will be happy."

United, who have won eight and drawn one of their nine Premier League games since the October derby Ferguson described as his worst day at Old Trafford, halved City's superior goal difference in the course of one afternoon and 16 goals in four league fixtures suggests that early Champions League elimination has shaken them from their torpor. Roberto Mancini, the City manager, got his defence in last night, with bitter complaints about fixture congestion, but Ferguson barely had a defence at all. Sickness to Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, and Rio Ferdinand's back injury reduced him to fielding Antonio Valencia at right-back, Michael Carrick at centre-half and – after a calf injury to Jonny Evans – Patrice Evra in central defence for the second half.

Wigan, who have shipped 19 goals, and scored once, in six Premier League visits to Old Trafford, required only eight minutes to make it a nice round 20. Evra staggered out of a fog of poor form to bisect Victor Moses and Antolin Alcaraz and square for Park Ji-sung , who angled himself to whip a shot past Ali al-Habsi. But the pivotal moment was Dowd's dismissal of Conor Sammon, at a time when Moses and Jordi Gomez were threatening Evans and Wigan were revealing how they had managed consecutive draws with Chelsea and Liverpool before Christmas. The striker extended a hand to hold off Carrick, as the two went up for a high ball together, but there was no venom. Even Ferguson admitted the Dubliner had been unfortunate. "He is a big, aggressive lad and he throws his body around a lot," he said. "He caught Michael across the face but it's not intentional."

After three matches against United which have seen three of his players dismissed and Wayne Rooney's elbow on James McCarthy go undetected, it was reasonable that Roberto Martinez dispensed with his usual equanimity. "The red card is a shocking decision," the Wigan manager said. "There's nothing malicious – not even a clear contact. The two are just fighting for that position. If you want to apply red cards with that standard then do it and you end up with six players each. I want to believe that you are going to get seen in the same way as Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United players."

Berbatov's actions were certainly not seen in the same way when he jostled with his arms to hold off Alcaraz, after the defender was flummoxed by Darron Gibson's low, dangerous cross from the right, and pivoted around to score.

Ferguson , whose injury list now numbers 11, sent on Ezekiel Fryers for Evans and shifted Evra to centre-half, but United still set about City's goal difference with an imperious ease. Valencia was the architect, capitalising on the space left by a back-pedalling David Jones, to cross for Berbatov, who span around Gary Caldwell to put the ball under Habsi's body. Then the Ecuadorean sized up a ball Carrick laid into his path to fire home with power and elegance from 12 yards. Alcaraz tripped Park with a crude challenge, which appeared to be millimetres inside the area, for the penalty which delivered Berbatov his fourth United hat-trick.

Ferguson 's quandaries for his 71 st year will include when goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard, who has not conceded in his four Premier League starts this season, should be allowed to extend his run of starts beyond the last two games.

"I think I said some weeks ago someone is going to suffer," Ferguson said. "We are really hitting good form now. There's a real goal threat from us from all departments." His side are an oppressive presence on City's shoulder, wanting to apply icing on a 20th title more desperately than ever, after that 1-6 defeat.

Substitutes: Manchester United Fryers 5 (Evans, h-t), Rooney 5 (Giggs, 63), Macheda 5 (Nani, 63). Wigan Athletic Di Santo 5 (Diame, h-t), McArthur 5 (Gomez, 70), Rodallega (Moses, 87).

Booked: Manchester United Evans, Giggs. Wigan Jones.

Sent off: Wigan Sammon (39).

Man of the match Carrick.

Attempts on target: Manchester United 9 Wigan 5.

Referee P Dowd (Staffordshire).

Attendance 75,183.

Ferguson hints at new Giggs deal

Sir Alex Ferguson has raised the prospect of another one-year deal for Ryan Giggs, which could stymie any move by the Football Association of Wales (FAW) to approach him for the position of national manager.

It is understood Giggs, who occasionally helped to motivate the Wales players under the leadership of the late Gary Speed, is an individual the FAW would consider a worthy successor. But Giggs, who started only his fifth Premier League game of the season yesterday, features in Ferguson's 2012-13 plans. "I think Ryan can play another year," the United manager said. "There is no evidence at this moment in time that his energy, stamina or speed are decreasing."

 Ian Herbert

Suggested Topics
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little