For match photos, scroll to Photostream above left. For stats click on the Statistics tab. Scroll down for manager reactions.
Robin van Persie produced a moment of magic to help Manchester United past Wigan Athletic at the DW Stadium. Despite Javier Hernandez also managing a smartly-taken double, it was Van Persie who also scored twice and stamped his class on proceedings as Manchester United cruised past Wigan to preserve their seven-point lead at the top.
The Dutchman’s 18th goal of the season was one of his best, calmly stepping inside Ivan Ramis before firing into the far corner with his right-foot. A stoppage-time second, tapping a Danny Welbeck cross into an unguarded net, means Van Persie has scored eight goals in his past eight games.
United's failure to get to grips with Wigan's three-man defence in the corresponding fixture last term condemned them to a defeat that triggered a dip in form which ultimately cost them last season’s title. It was clear early on that Sir Alex Ferguson’s side were in no mood to be similarly exposed this time around.
Ferguson filled his midfield, denying Roberto Martinez's men the space to implement their usual passing game. Wigan were forced into far more long balls than normal and though the first 25 minutes lacked much penalty-box action.
The warning for the hosts came when Ryan Giggs lifted a crossfield ball beyond Wigan's defence, which Hernandez reached, only to be ruled offside as he beat Ali Al Habsi, the Wigan goalkeeper. It was a signal of intent though, and when Jonny Evans nipped in front of Arouna Kone to intercept Gary Caldwell's clearance, the Northern Irishman advanced far enough to divert Tom Cleverley's square ball into the path of Patrice Evra.
After one failed shot on goal, Evra let fly with a low strike that Al Habsi could only parry into the path of the onrushing Hernandez, who calmly slotted home. It was the Mexican's 11th goal of the season and his 30th overall in the Premier League for United. All 30 have come from inside the area.
United doubled their lead before the break. A mix-up in midfield gifted United possession deep inside the Wigan half, but it was a slip from defender Ivan Ramis that allowed Van Persie a couple of extra seconds to decide what to do with Hernandez's pass. Ramis recovered his ground, only for Van Persie to step inside the defender and find the far corner with a right-footed effort of unerring accuracy.
Other than a wafer-thin offside call that went against Kone, who tapped home Franco di Santo's low cross, the visitors were dominant. Their third came just after the hour, when Van Persie's free-kick deflected into Hernandez's path. The Mexican was once again in the perfect position to stroke home United’s third.
United's job was done, as Ferguson confirmed by withdrawing Michael Carrick, who more than anyone has driven himself into the ground for his team during this productive Festive programme, in which they have dropped just two points. Ferguson will also be delighted that three-quarters of the work has been done without Wayne Rooney, who is still to recover from the minor knee injury he suffered on Christmas Day.
With Shinji Kagawa also getting a valuable 20 minutes under his belt, United are in a position of strength, and fittingly Van Persie had the last word two minutes from time.
Wigan manager Roberto Martinez: "It was very unfair to play against the league leaders in a period like that. We didn't have the legs or the reaction and you have to congratulate Manchester United.
"They had the luxury of making changes and Van Persie and Hernandez looked brighter and sharper. In the end it was a mismatch."
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson: “It’s a very good result here. If you look at their home record they’re a very difficult team to play against. The final two goals, particularly Robin’s, were terrific football and it was a really good scoreline.
“We have a seven-point lead. It’s not what I would say is a healthy lead but it is a lead and it gives us something to kick on with. We just don’t want to make the mistakes we did last year."
|12 Jan 2013||v Fulham (A)|
|19 Jan 2013||v Sunderland (H)|
|29 Jan 2013||v Stoke (A)|
|02 Feb 2013||v Southampton (H)|
|09 Feb 2013||v Chelsea (A)|
|23 Feb 2013||v Reading (A)|