MANCHESTER // Not the most important goal Paul Scholes has scored, nor his best, but it was appropriate that the veteran broke the deadlock for Manchester United against Wigan Athletic on his 700th United appearance.
Scholes is now third in the all time United appearance chart behind Ryan Giggs and Sir Bobby Charlton. His performance yesterday and his 51st-minute opener from a Nani cross showed why he is still worthy of his place.
"Paul is fantastic," said Sir Alex Ferguson. "He ghosted into the box to score that goal the way he used to do as a kid. It's incredible. He scored on his 100th, 200th, 300th, 400th, 500th and 700th appearances for the club."
By the time Scholes left the field to a standing ovation, United were in an unassailable position, but it did not come easily.
Ferguson chose a much changed side from that which beat Southampton two weeks ago. Former Wigan star Antonio Valencia was presented with United's Player of the Year award for 2011/12 in the Old Trafford sunshine before the kick-off, but the Ecuadorean had to be content with a place on the bench alongside Robin Van Persie, Shinji Kagawa, Tom Cleverley, Jonny Evans and Nick Powell.
Instead, Ferguson gave starts to Javier Hernandez, Nani and a debut to 23-year-old Dutch full-back Alexander Buttner, a recent acquisition from Vitesse. United had a chance to go ahead after three minutes when Daniel Welbeck went down in the box after minimal, if any, contact from Ali Al Habsi. Wigan will have considered it just when their Omani goalkeeper dived left to save Hernandez's anaemic penalty.
Wigan were better than the side which lost 5-0 at Old Trafford last season. Arouna Kone had a superb chance three minutes before the break, as United became less effective. Cries for substitute Van Persie had begun as early as the 34th minute after Nani shot wildly over.
The home side improved in the second half, their breakthrough coming quickly when Nani set up Scholes for a tap-in. A second goal followed when Hernandez turned in a ball from Buttner.
It got better for the Dutch debut boy as he scored a fine individual goal on 65 minutes, his determination forcing him beyond several Wigan players before his shot crept past Al Habsi.
"He's raw and he was rash at times," said Ferguson of Buttner, "but we can develop him. He was a bit lucky with the goal, but he deserved it."
Another debutant, substitute Nick Powell, 18, scored with an 81st-minute strike from outside the area as the home side made it 4-0.
"Nick is going to be a really good player," enthused Ferguson. "Apart from his ability, he's got a good temperament."
Roberto Martinez, the Wigan manager, accused Welbeck of diving and also claimed that he should have later been sent off.
Welbeck lunged in on Franco di Santo in the second half, which Martinez felt warranted a red card.
"For Welbeck's last challenge, his foot was over the ball on Franco," said Martinez. "It is completely reckless ... With the laws as they are, you cannot tackle people like that. It is a red card, for a Wigan player, Manchester United, everyone."
Martinez said he did not blame referee Michael Oliver for his side's defeat, but added: "I have come to United three times before today and for whatever reason we don't seem to be measured in the same manner as the team at home. Today the penalty is as bad a decision as you are going to see in the Premier League. In many ways, you feel as though you are fighting against a mountain.
"There were tackles flying around that if they had been the other way round there would have been a couple of red cards."
United's next league game is at Liverpool, where they have an atrocious recent record. While fans are concerned whether their side will perform, worries persist that a minority of fans will sing the vile songs Ferguson has asked them to drop.
The majority respect the history of their rivals, yet a few insist on going too far by singing about disasters.
A small number of fans in the Stretford End yesterday briefly saw fit to chant offensively. Their feeble efforts were the only blot on a bright afternoon for four goal United.
Follow us @SprtNationalUAE