Burnley caused a massive upset in midweek when they defeated Manchester United at Turf Moor. Owen Coyle’s men battled to a 1-0 victory despite the best efforts of Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen up front for the Red Devils.
Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson spent the best part of 90 minutes lamenting the absence of Portuguese winger Cristiano Ronaldo as United striker Michael Owen produced an average performance under the watchful eye of England manager Fabio Capello.
Ferguson approached the away fixture at the JJB knowing that nothing less than three points would suffice as United looked to keep up with pace setters Chelsea and Arsenal. Owen was relieved of his spot up front with Bulgarian international Dimitar Berbatov partnering Rooney in attack.
The first half proved a cagey affair, with both sides swapping jabs but no real punch to their attacks. It was United who came closest to opening the scoring, but Darren Fletcher failed to slot the ball past Kirkland after hard work by Rooney on the right wing.
Minutes later, Paul Scholes blazed the ball into the stands as he failed to apply a finish after he characteristically eluded the clutches of the impressive Titus Bramble. Scholes faced the wrath of referee Howard Webb on several occasions during the first half after a couple of rash challenges and some ill-advised words directed at the man in black.
Following a period of disjointed play, Berbatov became the next wasteful culprit as his tame header floated straight into the arms of the waiting Wigan Athletic goalkeeper. The void left by Ronaldo was becoming increasingly evident, with United failing to capitalize on well crafted openings.
Titus Bramble was proving immense at the back, as his large frame made it difficult for Rooney and Berbatov to escape his attention with Bramble coming to the home side’s rescue on more than one occasion exemplified by the last ditch tackle on Berbatov just before half time.
During the interval, Wigan manager Robert Martinez would have certainly expressed his frustrations with his side’s wasteful use of possession when on the counter attack. It became an occurring theme of the first half, with Wigan looking dangerous on the break, only to surrender possession to the away side.
The second half proved a different affair as United showed that there is life after Ronaldo. Ten minutes after the break, Rooney broke the deadlock as he headed past the despairing Kirkland.
Wigan almost hit back immediately through Rodallega after a divine cross from Jason Koumas forced United keeper Ben Foster to palm the ball over the bar. Moments later, Koumas and company were left to rue the miss as Berbatov deceived Kirkland with a delicate lob eluding the Wigan keeper, allowing the Bulgarian to apply a simple finish.
United were in cruise mode as Rooney made it 3-0 securing a brace and 101 strikes in 250 plus appearances for United. However, Ferguson hauled his number ten off the pitch shortly after allowing Owen to gain some much needed match practice.
The Scot’s faith in the striker was shortly repaid as he opened his account with the champions thanks to a disguised ball from Nani, left him with only the keeper to beat. Owen subsequently produced a deft chip to extend United’s lead further.
A Nani free kick in the 92nd minute flew past the paralysed Kirkland, rounding off an accomplished second half display by the visitors as the post Ronaldo hangover seems to have well and truly come to an end.
The real test will be next week as Manchester United host high flyer’s Arsenal, who today dismantled a Portsmouth 4-1.