x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Perfect start at Wigan to a big week for Man United

The victory puts United four points ahead of Arsenal and sets them up nicely for the visits to Chelsea and Liverpool in the next seven days.

WIGAN // Manchester United made a splendid start to a potentially crucial week in their title push, yet this handsome-looking victory was not as comfortable as the scoreline suggests.

The victory puts United four points ahead of Arsenal and sets them up nicely for the visits to Chelsea and Liverpool in the next seven days that Sir Alex Ferguson described as an "acid test".

However, this was a Jekyll-and-Hyde performance by the leaders as Wigan Athletic had the better of the first half and were unlucky to be trailing at the break to Javier Hernandez's strike.

United's quality shone through in the closing stages, but Wigan - in the view of their manager, Roberto Martinez - were unfortunate that the referee Mark Clattenburg failed to send off Wayne Rooney for an off-the-ball incident involving James McCarthy in the ninth minute.

Rooney appeared to raise an elbow and catch the 20-year-old Wigan midfielder on the side of his head. Clattenburg saw the incident and gave a free kick but took no action against Rooney, who would have missed the games at Stamford Bridge and Anfield had he seen red.

"Next to nothing" was Ferguson's verdict but Martinez had a different interpretation. "I felt if my player had done that he would have been very lucky to stay on the pitch. It's an off-the-ball incident, he saw it, he gave a free kick and it's clearly a red card."

Clattenburg told Martinez at half time that he thought Rooney had just "clipped" McCarthy.

That said, Wigan were guilty of not taking their chances. They have not taken a single point off United in the Premier League yet they dominated the opening exchanges, forcing the visitors onto the back foot with high-tempo pressing and slick passing.

They should have taken the lead in the 13th minute when Paul Scholes' wayward touch left Victor Moses clean through on Edwin van der Sar, but the young winger was foiled by the Dutchman.

Hernandez punished Wigan with his 17th-minute goal (a near-post finish from Nani's ball from the left), but Wigan nearly responded at once. Charles N'Zogbia flicked a cross into the path of McCarthy, whose shot was blocked by Van der Sar.

United offered a warning of what would follow when Nani rattled the woodwork on the half-hour; in the second half the Portuguese had three chances as United stepped up a gear.

In the 74th minute, Hernandez delivered their killer second. After laying off a Scholes high ball at the feet of Rooney, the Mexican spun behind his marker and ran onto the return pass before finishing clinically past Ali al Habsi.

It was the eighth league goal for Hernandez, 22, and Ferguson praised his finishing ability. "You hope when he gets his chances he puts them away and his percentage is very high."

Second-bottom Wigan have the division's worst home defensive record and United rubbed salt into their wounds late on. The substitute Dimitar Berbatov sprang the offside trap and squared for Rooney to make it three. Another replacement, Fabio da Silva, slotted home his first goal in English football.