In Pictures: Wigan Athletic 0 Manchester United 5
Lancashire lightning declined to strike Manchester United twice in the same week yesterday, the champions following Wednesday's shock at Turf Moor with a thunderous performance of their own, drowning Wigan with five second-half goals.
Wayne Rooney, playing again as an orthodox striker and all the happier for it, opened the scoring with his 100th goal for the club, and was set up for a 101st by his partner Dimitar Berbatov, who had scored the second. Even Michael Owen, substituting for Rooney late on, got in on the act with his first League goal since signing from Newcastle before Nani completed the rout.
All that after United had managed a single goal in three hours against Birmingham and Burnley, relegation candidates who may yet be joined in their struggles by Wigan. Roberto Martinez has clearly imported the pleasant passing football he employed at Swansea but there is a worrying lack of scoring potential in a squad that recorded only 34 last season – the second worst in the League.
Hugo Rodallega was a lone figure in attack most of the time, whether in his green boots in the first half or his pink ones in the second, and the home side were outplayed for most of the match by a United team showing seven changes, for whom Darren Fletcher was the dominant figure in midfield and Rooney a constant threat further forward.
"It was a really good response," Sir Alex Ferguson said, adding of the Burnley defeat: "we're not going to kill ourselves about it but we had to do something about it and we did. It's terrific for Wayne at such a young age and if Dimitar and Michael can weigh in with goals it'll make a difference to our game."
It was perhaps not surprising that Wigan took so long to settle, since in Mohamed Diame they were fielding a player in the midfield engine room signed from Rayo Vallecano only yesterday morning.
While he was finding his feet alongside the Honduran, Hendry Thomas, United's revamped side forged half a dozen chances in the opening half an hour.
The first of them was as good as any, a smooth build-up involving Rooney, Berbatov and Nani, whose cross would have been tucked away by Fletcher from six yards had Titus Bramble not thrown himself in the way. Berbatov's deft flick set up Paul Scholes for a drive over the bar and Rooney's effort was deflected for a corner.
When Wigan did get forward, it tended to be on the counter-attack and their one real opportunity of the first half stemmed from a United mistake. Gary Neville, restored to the right-back position, was dispossessed by Jason Koumas, who exchanged passes with the lone striker Rodallega and cut inside before curling a shot that was heading just inside a post until Ben Foster leapt to turn it for a corner. Foster was one of only four players retained from the Turf Moor defeat, the others being Patrice Evra, Jonny Evans and Rooney.
The pattern in the second half was much as before, until a breathtaking couple of minutes in which United finally broke through, were almost pegged back and then scored two more.
The former Wigan winger, Antonio Valencia, had forfeited the home crowd's earlier affection by falling to the ground clutching his face but he soon produced his first real cross of the afternoon from the right flank, which Rooney rose to head high into the net for his century in 238 games.
Within a minute Rodallega brought off an even better header, from Maynor Figueroa's cross, that Foster somehow clawed away.
In the next attack, however, Berbatov, fed by Scholes, conjured up some more silky skill to juggle the ball away from his challengers before dispatching it past Chris Kirkland. Seven more minutes and Berbatov found Rooney, who was able to transfer the ball from one foot to another and hit a shot of no great power that deflected in off Mario Melchiot.
The points secure, Ferguson opted for a triple substitution, introducing Owen, Darron Gibson and John O'Shea. Nani played in Owen to convert the sort of chance he had been missing in previous games, and right at the finish Nani's free-kick curled straight in to complete Wigan's wretched afternoon.
"After the first goal we were maybe too open and naive," Martinez said. It was United's 10th straight win against Wigan and suggested that rumours of a crisis had been a little exaggerated.