In another Greater Manchester Derby, Manchester United saw off Wigan Athletic 2-0 at Old Trafford, but they were forced to work hard for all three points.
Patrice Evra scored his first goal for United in nearly three years to give the home team the lead in first-half stoppage-time, but it took another awkward header from Javier Hernandez to seal the win against Wigan.
United’s cause was helped, because during a three minute span in the second-half, Wigan were reduced to nine men with Antolín Alcaraz and Hugo Rodallega both sent for early baths by Martin Atkinson, but the visitors mimicked the character of the manager, Roberto Martinez, to prevent an onslaught.
Coupled with the poor results from both Arsenal and Chelsea, United are now level on points with the latter at the top of the Barclays Premier League standings, but trail on goal difference.
Following their positive contribution against Aston Villa, Sir Alex Ferguson has handed starts to both Gabriel Obertan and Federico Macheda in the United attack, which was the only real surprise to his team selection.
All eyes were not on the starting XI, though, because the United supporters, pundits and critics all around were waiting to see if Ferguson would recall Wayne Rooney to the subs’ bench, and he did.
Another promising sign for the United supporters was the inclusion of Ryan Giggs, who has been out of action since suffering another hamstring strain against West Bromwich Albion in the middle of October.
However, there was no place in the squad to face Wigan for Dimitar Berbatov, who seemed to be in a need of a rest to ease his frustrations.
The match started out as expected – United bossing the possession with Wigan sitting back and allowing to get forward in attempt to catch them on a counter attack.
But the first scoring chance fell to Hugo Rodallega, but the Wigan forward slipped and following a little melee in the penalty area, Jordi Gómez blasted over from just eight yards out.
United’s first chance came after Steve Gohouri fouled Ji-Sung Park down their left-hand side, and Nani whipped in the free-kick and Ali Al Habsi was forced to slap it out with Nemanja Vidic lurking.
Edwin van der Sar made the first save of the match as Rodallega got into some space, but his powerful shot lacked accuracy and was straight at the big goalkeeper.
United were within inches of taking the lead. Nani cut inside on his left foot, and hit a shot that took a slight deflection and looped up and over Al Habsi, but it went just passed the far post for a corner kick.
The game then completely tailed off, because of the negative tactical approach by Wigan, but United had a good shout for a free-kick a good position, but Martin Atkinson wrongfully implied that Hendry Thomas did not foul Vidic.
Charles N’Zogbia latched onto a loose ball, but the United defenders – Vidic and Michael Carrick – shepherded him on his weaker right foot, and blasted well over from just inside of the area.
United won a free-kick 25-yards from goal, and with a little hesitation, Nani tested the Wigan goalkeeper, but and with Macheda and Vidic ready to pounce
Mohamed Diame was the first player to go into Atkinson’s book when he cynically fouled Park from behind, and United put Wigan under the cosh from the free-kick.
Nani’s floated cross to back post was met by Vidic, but his header across the face of the Wigan goal was met by the head of Antolín Alcaraz, who cleared it over his own crossbar for a United corner.
The quick feet of Gabriel Obertan earned Wigan their second yellow card in as many minutes as Alcaraz trip the young forward after he was beaten for pace.
The United supporters were then treated to a little tussle between Nani and Maynor Figueroa had a little disagreement down by the Wigan corner flag, which led to some pushing and shoving and then being scolded by the Atkinson.
United were left to count their lucky stars as a flick by Rodallega was met by Ronnie Stam, but the Wigan winger could not find the target from inside the six-yard box.
van der Sar had to be brave as N’Zogbia lost his markers and zigzagged through the United box, but the 40-year old goalkeeper did well to get off his line and block his effort with his chest.
United were still left stunned because Stam was able to place a cross towards the penalty spot, but Rodallega’s adventurous overhead kick, which was hit with loads of power, went well wide of van der Sar’s post.
Even though they were controlling the possession, the home side were lacking that inventiveness that was going to be required to break down a very disciplined Wigan defense, which is why Sir Alex had Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Wayne Rooney all warming up just before the half-time break.
N’Zogbia showed his skills and pace as he went passed Vidic, and there was some definitely pulling back by the United captain, but it was outside of the box, and the Wigan player went to the ground far too easily to earn a penalty.
As they did in their last home game against Wolverhampton, United stole into the lead on the stroke of half-time.
Parked popped up on the right-hand side, and with the Wigan defenders dropping off, the South Korean sent in a cross to the back post, which his good friend, Evra, did well to react the quickest and headed home from close range.
The goal is exactly what the match was in need of simply because it would force the very compact Wigan line-up to push forward in search of an equalizer.
Rafael needlessly gave Wigan a free-kick in a very good area near the bi-line, and the danger was only half-cleared by Rio Ferdinand, but Figueroa, who won the free-kick, blasted well over the United bar.
With his side still struggling to find the killer pass, Sir Alex opted to make a double change, bringing on Paul Scholes and the fit-again Wayne Rooney for Park and Macheda, respectively.
Roberto Martinez then brought on Victor Moses, who scored the lone goal in Wigan’s 1-0 win over West Brom last weekend, for Gomez to add more speed to his counter attacks.
Just after that change, Wigan were reduced to 10-men as their captain for the day, Alcaraz, rightly received his second yellow card for a late, mistimed challenge on Darren Fletcher.
The captain’s armband was then given to Rodallega, but it proved to be a jinx, because within two minutes he was shown a straight red card by Atkinson for a strong, two-footed tackled on Rafael.
With the numerical advantage now increased to two, Sir Alex took a calculated gamble by taking off one of his midfielders – Carrick – to in favor of another forward with Javier Hernandez coming on.
Despite being down to nine-men, his counterpart, Martinez, did not chose to make a shift to his team, which was quite surprising.
Rafael sent in a very tempting cross, which was met with powerful header by Rooney, but it lacked the placement and was well saved by the Wigan goalkeeper.
United were rewarded a free-kick in a very good area for Nani to find the target, but his effort lacked the height and precision to beat the Wigan wall and it was easily collect by Ali Al Habsi.
Finally, after fifteen minutes of playing with a two-man advantage United bared the fruits that the Old Trafford crowd were anticipating, as Chicharito stooped low to nod home Rafael’s cross.
Wigan still worked hard, and it was their best player, N’Zogbia, who earned them a free-kick after another powerful solo run earned the visitors a free-kick in United’s defensive-third.
Martinez finally made his final two changes in the 80th minutes bringing both James McArthur and Franco Di Santo for Stam and N’Zogbia to add more balance to his formation.
From the free-kick, Thomas put his laces through the ball, but it went directly into the midriff of van der Sar.
The palms of Ali Al Habsi were stung when Nani sent in a thunderous drive that the alertness of the Wigan ‘keeper and he did well to thwart it away.
United should have had their third, but both Nani and Chicharito could not get the decisive touch on another very good cross from Rafael.
To the chagrin of Sir Alex, the United players did not have the killer instinct to get another goal as numerous players whiffed chances and Rooney and Evra were the biggest culprits.
Rafael struck another cross into the six-yard box, but Rooney did not get much on his shot and Ali Al Habsi saved.
Evra then collect Scholes’ deflected shot, and with the far post netting screaming for his shot, he blasted just wide.
Manchester United did well to overcome this tough test against Wigan, and coupled with the other results, the Red Devils moved in a tie with Chelsea in the Barclays Premier League standings.
Rafael pushed forward to add the pressure that was needed to force Wigan into mistakes, and he supplied the assist that
E. van der Sar – 6; Rafael – 8, R. Ferdinand – 7, N. Vidic – 7, P. Evra – 7; Nani – 6, M. Carrick – 6 (J. Hernandez – 7), D. Fletcher – 7, J. S. Park – 5 (P. Scholes – 7); G. Obertan – 6, F. Macheda – 5 (W. Rooney – 6)
P. Evra (45′), J. Hernandez (77′)
Shots (On Target): 16(7)
Fouls Conceded (Suffered): 10 (16)