14/01/2009 18:03, Report by Ben Hibbs
United 1 Wigan 0
United moved second in the table and just two points behind league-leaders Liverpool with an important, yet unspectacular, victory against Wigan Athletic, a battle which was over no sooner than it had started thanks to a first-minute strike from Wayne Rooney.
Sir Alex made five changes to the team that beat Chelsea 3-0 on Sunday. Rafael, John O’Shea, Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick and Nani were all drafted in to replace Gary Neville, Patrice Evra, Darren Fletcher, Ryan Giggs and Ji-sung Park.
Sunday’s victory took the Reds to within five points of Liverpool, fuelling Wigan’s visit to Old Trafford with a sense of purpose in the first of two games in hand on the Merseysiders. Steve Bruce’s men may be in flying form, but this was a chance United patently couldn’t afford to pass up.
Wigan are an altogether different proposition to Chelsea, but Sir Alex predicted his side could expect “an equally testing time”. But, to look at the scoresheet, the tale of the game appears like the Nicholas Cage action film: gone in 60 seconds. Less than a minute had elapsed when Dimitar Berbatov’s exquisite pass with the outside of his boot found Cristiano Ronaldo on the right. The Portuguese, who paraded his FIFA World Player of the Year award before kick-off, showed his class with a flurry of stepovers and a drilled pass across the face of goal that Wayne Rooney calmly tapped home.
It seemed like the perfect start. But that was soon tempered by Rooney’s departure from the field after just eight minutes. United’s goalscorer signalled to the bench that he could not continue, worryingly pointing to his hamstring, which is a notoriously temperamental injury.
Wigan’s powerful front man Emile Heskey had the visitor’s first shot on goal after 20 minutes. Amr Zaki teed up his strike partner’s headed flick on and Heskey fired wide.