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Rooney elbow incident sours Red Devils stroll


Manchester United's Javier Hernandez celebrates opening the scoring in his side's comfortable victory at Wigan yesterday.

Manchester United's Javier Hernandez celebrates opening the scoring in his side's comfortable victory at Wigan yesterday.

Manchester United's Javier Hernandez celebrates opening the scoring in his side's comfortable victory at Wigan yesterday.

Manchester United opened up a four-point gap on Arsenal and a startling 15-point one on Chelsea with the most predictable of wins at Wigan, who have now played 13 games against Alex Ferguson's side since 2005 and lost every time.

Even with one eye on their trip to Chelsea on Tuesday United still managed their usual landslide -- they have now scored 41 goals against these most obliging of opponents -- though in fairness, Wigan only let their heads drop in the last 10 minutes.

Roberto Martinez's players gave a good account of themselves in the first half and could consider themselves slightly unlucky to be trailing by a single goal at the break, yet this was only the first of three successive away games for United in the coming week and, though they used it sparingly, the visitors always had an edge in quality that was likely to tell. With Dimitar Berbatov rested Javier Hernandez stepped up with two neat finishes, and though Wayne Rooney was booed throughout after catching James McCarthy with an elbow early on, the striker, still clearly out of sorts, set up his side's first two goals and scored the third.

"We didn't take our chances and Manchester United punish you for that," Martinez said. "It might have been a different matter had they gone down to 10 men. The referee told me at half-time that Rooney had just clipped James and it did not warrant a red card, but if you see a replay it is clearly an elbow and Rooney was very fortunate to escape a red card. The referee must have seen it because he gave a free-kick. Had one of my players done that I'm not sure he would have been so lucky." Ferguson played down the incident, anticipating pressure being put on the FA to take retrospective action. "It was next to nothing," the United manager said. "Mark Clattenburg [the referee] saw it and said it was an accident."

Ferguson also admitted Wigan were all over United for the first 20 minutes, but one brief moment of class and United were on their way as Nani played a one-two with Rooney and supplied a low cross that Hernandez alertly read, nipping in front of Ali al-Habsi at the near post to dink the ball past the goalkeeper.

Wigan had a much clearer opportunity to open the scoring four minutes earlier, when a mistake by Paul Scholes presented Victor Moses with a one-on-one chance, but Edwin van der Sar denied him. The home side could also have equalised immediately after United went in front; Van der Sar rushing from his line to smother a shot from McCarthy when a goal seemed certain from Hugo Rodallega's clever backheel; Nani then hit the post after an astute pass from Rooney.

While there was only one goal in it there was still hope of an upset, but after Rooney and Darren Fletcher had missed opportunities Hernandez's second goal made the game safe a quarter of an hour from time. He knocked a long clearance into Rooney's path then took a well-timed return, before sliding a low shot beyond Al-Habsi.

With the game safe United began to make substitutions, and found fresh legs were all they needed to double their lead. First Darron Gibson found Berbatov in space for the Bulgarian to leave Rooney a tap-in, then Fabio came on for the last five minutes and scored his first goal for the club with virtually his first touch, collecting a cross at the far post and beating Al Habsi with a composed finish.

"The final score was not a true reflection of the game," Martinez lamented, not for the first time this season. The table gives a true reflection of Wigan's plight. A West Ham win this afternoon would leave the Latics bottom.


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