Manchetser United 4 Wigan Athletic 0: Accidents and ailments lead Ferguson to find United's spark

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The Independent Football

Back in the mists of time – when half-time arrived at 1.30pm on Saturday, to be precise – Manchester United's season was still stumbling along. OK, so they were high in the table after a series of dull 1-0 wins. But they had scored just seven goals in eight league games and even Sir Alex Ferguson admitted in the programme: "Yes, it's a worry."

This was all before the wholly impressive trinity of Carlos Tevez (one goal) Cristiano Ronaldo (two) and Wayne Rooney (one), aided and abetted by a fine performance in midfield from Anderson, flared into life.

In some ways, it was a serendipitous win. Ferguson was in search of one thing – an effective way to patch up a team battered by injury – and found another, United's spark. But more of that later.

The first half was tranquilliser poor. United should have had a penalty in the fifth minute when Michael Brown took out Ronaldo in the area. It was the clearest cut of three home shouts for a penalty in the game, none given.

One of the revolving advertising hoardings at Old Trafford, for United's airline partner, announced: "See Asia for as low as 50p". It was tempting to go straight away. United's players and Ferguson looked like they could do with a break, and not one playing internationals. As for the fans...

Theatre of Dreams? Screams, more like, as the wounded keeled over. Thrills? Pills, actually, for ailments ranging from broken bones to concussion, bruised elbows, knees, thighs and toes. Bellyache after bellyache for Ferguson.

Already he was without eight first-teamers. Then, crash! Louis Saha felt his troublesome knee in the warm-up and could not even take his place on the bench. Bang! Nemanja Vidic, after a clash of heads, wobbled off with concussion. Anderson came on. Ferguson reshaped. Wallop! John O'Shea took a knock and also hobbled off.

Ferguson was now missing, injured, an entire team, a decent XI that some Premier League managers would love to have: Van der Sar; Neville, Brown, Vidic, Silvestre; O'Shea; Fletcher, Carrick, Hargreaves, Park Ji-sung; Saha.

The Wigan manager, Chris Hutchings, summed up what happened next. "You just know that United are going to come good sooner or later," he said. "You just hope it's not going to be against you. But it was.

"You only have to look at the players on the pitch to see their quality," he added. "If one good player is not available, there are more coming in. You manage to stop one chance, and there's someone else there to do something brilliant."

Ferguson, who said it was always going to take time for his new-look team to establish a good rapport, lauded an "absolutely superb" second half. "We speeded the game up, and the flow was much better," he said. "There was excellent interplay between the strikers, and it seems to be coming together." All true, worryingly, for rivals of United, who have conceded only twice in the league this season, although it must be said that Wigan always ship goals against United and came for a 0-0 draw.

Anderson provided an inviting diagonal pass to Tevez for the first goal, but the bullish Argentine still did superbly to run with it, hold off two defenders, round the advancing Chris Kirkland and slot home.

Ronaldo made it 2-0 with a header from Ryan Giggs' corner. The Portuguese winger made it three after a cross from Rooney, who was fed a defence-splitting pass by Gerard Pique. Rooney rounded things off with a strong header after a cross from Danny Simpson, a youngster making his League debut only because O'Shea went off injured.

Simpson's only other United game was the recent Carling Cup embarrassment against Coventry. How times have changed. United's season has actually started. And Ferguson even expects the injured to start returning in numbers soon.

Goals: Tevez (54) 1-0; Ronaldo (59) 2-0; Ronaldo (76) 3-0; Rooney (82) 4-0.



Manchester United (4-4-2): Kuszczak; Pique, Ferdinand, Vidic (Anderson, 21), Evra; Ronaldo, O'Shea (Simpson, 30), Scholes, Giggs; Rooney, Tevez (Nani, 81). Substitutes not used: Heaton (gk), Eagles.

Wigan Athletic (4-5-1): Kirkland; Melchiot (Hall, 50), Boyce, Brown, Kilbane; Scharner, Skoko, Brown, Koumas, Olembe (Valencia, 66); Bent. Substitutes not used: Pollitt (gk), Landzaat, Aghahowa.

Referee: M Riley (West Yorkshire).

Booked: Manchester United Rooney; Wigan Athletic Skoko.

Man of the match: Tevez.

Attendance: 75,300.

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