Ronaldo Provides Ammo
Manchester United have extended their lead to four points at the top of the table following a 3-1 victory over Wigan Athletic. The Reds maintained their excellent Boxing Day record and got an unexpected gift in Chelsea's home draw against Reading.
It was not easy. Wigan obviously arrived for a 0-0 draw and they defended in numbers, deep in their own half. The visiting team had its first shot on goal after 66 minutes and that just about tells everything about the game.
United, without Louis Saha, Ryan Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo, lacked some kind of spark, creativity in the first half, especially in the second part of it. in the first 15 minutes we should have buried the Latics but Rooney just couldn't put the ball into the net despite all the chances carved out for him. After twenty minutes or so the game slowed down and United seemed to be running out of ideas of how to break them down. A mention must go to Chris Kirkland, too: he was in inspired form and he refused to surrender in the manner he had done when he failed to react at all to Arjen Robben's late strike.
It would be unfair to blame this mediocre showing on the changes Sir Alex Ferguson had made: Solskjaer and Park were both lively while O'Shea at least did not commit any mistakes. Still, our two strikers wasted openings simply due to the fact they failed to control some fantastic passes.
It would be unwise to say the introduction of Ronaldo proved to be the catalyst for the second half's bombardment. After all, our first goal came after a good Park run on the left, a reasonable low cross that just eluded the lunging Rooney and Scholes' first perfecly taken corner of the afternoon. But the Portuguese of course had to be there to head the ball home powerfully, thus lifting the pressure of the team that flew over Wigan. Minutes later, Park tackled Gary Teale in the box and the Latics' midfielder kicked the Korean's ankle in a desperate attempt to take the ball away from him. Mike Riley pointed at the spot and though Ronaldo's initial (and terrible) shot was saved by Kirkland the rebound fell invitingly to the Portuguese's feet who duly slotted it home to make it two.
At this point Wigan still did not have a single effort on goal to show. There were no signs of a resurrection of the visiting team and Solskjaer killed off any hopes of a miraculous comeback at the hour mark when he found the net from 16 yards after Rooney headed the ball into his path.
It was practically over and United eased off though their counters were always threatening. We allowed some time and space for Wigan who carved out some half-chances but did not really look likely to score. At the other end of the field, Rooney hit the underside of the bar after a finely constructed counter-attack and it became clear it's not the England striker's day. He tried very hard but nothing he touched turned into gold and Cristiano Ronaldo just stole the show from him.
Oh, and at the end Silvestre managed to give away a penalty that Baines fired into the net. The Frenchman at least ensured Vital United's prediction was correct.
Van der Sar 6
Cristiano Ronaldo 8