You’ve got to almost feel bad for Wigan, don’t you? As the Stretford End repeatedly sang “this is how it feels to be City” to them, I cringed a little. As much as a dig it will always be at City, regardless of who we sing it to, it’s a song meant for horrible teams, for teams who have stood in the way of our success, for teams whose fans are obnoxious and irritating, not poor little Wigan. Wigan, who always let us thrash them, who gifted us that important League Cup in 2006, who let us win 2-0 on the final day of the 2008 season to win the league, who let us come back from a goal down to beat them 2-1 three days before we won the league last season. They’re not a bad lot are they? As a few hundred of them sat in the freezing cold last night, getting totally spanked by United, yet again, I did feel for them.
But you get over feelings like that when you remember that you’re two points away from the top with a goal difference worse by just two goals!
Before the match, I had asked for the lads to dish out an absolute battering and they came through with the goods. Wayne Rooney opened the scoring for us (anyone else making a killing with Betfair on that one?) after my favourite player of the day, Rafael da Silva, provided the assist and wheeled away in celebration as though he had scored the goal himself. If we could get ourselves another goal soon, the Wigan players would be shattered mentally, already presuming they were going to get thrashed again.
So when Berbatov played a lovely weighted ball to Antonio Valencia to charge on to, we were on the edge of our seats. Instead of playing the more obvious ball to Rooney or Park who had charged in to the area, Valencia pulled the ball back perfectly to Michael Carrick who struck it cleanly and under Chris Kirkland. Two goals in four minutes and we weren’t finished yet.
Just before half time, Darren Fletcher found Rafael on the edge of the area, who was surrounded by Wigan players and got the ball stuck under his feet. It looked like the chance had gone but he created some room for himself and swung at the ball with his left foot. He found the back of the net and started sprinting towards the bench, pointing at brother Fabio in the stands. It was a lovely moment for the pair who had seen their careers temporarily halted by injuries over the past year. This of course was Rafael’s highlight of the match, but I was impressed with his all-round game. There were still some positioning problems, with him racing forward and leaving Valencia or Fletcher to fill the right-back position, but I love how eager he is to put the boot in. He clearly likes getting forward but isn’t afraid to get stuck in either. For such a little guy, he’s pretty strong, and the Wigan players didn’t get much joy against him at all.
Whatever was said in the Wigan dressing room at half time wasn’t enough to avoid another thrashing, with Dimitar Berbatov scoring within five minutes of the restart. That’s two goals in two games for the Bulgarian, as he moves up to the thirteenth highest scorer in the league. Valencia beat his man and put in a perfect ball to Berbatov, who had pulled back away from his man, before finishing with the outside of his boot. He was mobbed by his team-mates as he smiled with relief.
With the goal difference improving all the time, the players were urged on by the crowd, not content with just four goals. Valencia, who’d had a great game down the right flank, teamed up with Rafael, got in on the action against his former club. Rooney picked him out perfectly and he coolly lifted the ball over the keeper.
That was exactly the kind of performance and result we had been craving. It’s easy to get bogged down with criticism when you want them to do so much better, and know that they are capable of it. It’s so frustrating watching them fail with the simplest of passes or mess up what appear to be easy chances, but no team is perfect. The result against Wigan should ease the pressure a bit and fill our players with confidence.
Rooney was oozing with class and cut out so many of the mistakes he’s been making over recent weeks, clearly pleased to hear of the manager’s faith in him this week. This lad only turned 24-years-old a couple of months ago and says he wants to stay with United forever. It’s pretty incredible really.
The partnership of Fletcher and Carrick worked well in central midfield, possibly aided by the few matches they’ve partnered each other in defence(?). Both of them looked really up for it and complimented each other nicely. It wasn’t just Fletcher doing the donkey work whilst Carrick worked with his creativity, with both of them sharing the midfield duties admirably.
So we’ve got a great few weeks ahead, with Leeds in the Cup, then City in the League Cup, then what should be another opportunity to close the gap on Chelsea against Birmingham. They’re no walk over but we’re getting our players back and now the top of the table is in touching distance, we should really make the most of it.
When you think of all the complaining that has gone on over the past month or so, we should have been thankful of the team we get to support. What the hell have Chelsea been doing in December? Without any key injuries and without any particularly difficult matches, they’re only two points ahead and have only conceded two fewer goals! That is absolutely appalling. We’ve been playing with our second choice keeper, with Fletcher and Carrick in the centre of defence, yet we’re right on Chelsea’s tails. I’m sure people will look back on December as when Chelsea lost the title.
Over the next month we’ll see more of our defenders return from injury, we’ll see Chelsea lose their top scorer (their next highest scorer is Lampard with six goals, five of which were penalties) and their midfield marshal (and that waster Mikel/supposed Essien replacement, will be off also), as well as United starting to kick in with their usual second half of the season form.
Roll on 2010! Happy New Year!