Following a weekend where it was the common view that Manchester United had all but secured a twentieth English title the Red Devils were given a strong reality check at the DW Stadium at the hands of Wigan Athletic. Wigan Athletic headed into the game with the unwanted statistic that they had never taken a league point off United above their heads however their performance was not of a team under pressure or indeed deep in a relegation battle. United buoyed by their eight point lead over Manchester City at the top of the Premier League table headed into the fixture fully expecting to win easily and perhaps underestimated Wigan in terms of team selection.
Paul Scholes was left out of the squad for the first time since his return to the Manchester United fold in January. Phil Jones was recalled to right back in place of Rafael Da Silva with Javier Hernandez preferred to Danny Welbeck in the lone strike position. Wigan Athletic having been in a recent spell of good performances with a win at Liverpool and an unfortunate defeat to Chelsea continued with the same system with Victor Moses up front aided by former Celtic midfielder Shaun Maloney just in behind.
Right from the off it was clear that Manchester United were struggling, the lack of Paul Scholes in midfield caused Michael Carrick and Ryan Giggs confusion with it being clear that neither were particularly sure of the role they were supposed to be playing. Wigan as to be expected from a side in a relegation dogfight were up for the game having a lot of early possession and pressuring the Champions into making mistakes whilst in control of the ball. Wigan midfielder Maloney gave Manchester United a warning as he forced a smart save out of De Gea in just the 9th minute. Wigan then created further openings when only an unfortunate poor first touch from Franco Di Santo stopped the Argentine being through on goal. Wigan then thought they had got the opening goal they deserved on the half hour mark when Victor Moses headed in a Shaun Maloney corner however the goal was ruled out dubiously but indeed correctly for a foul by Gary Caldwell on David De Gea. United were still struggling with the lack of a playmaker in midfield who could control the game and dictate the direction of passes in the way that only Paul Scholes can and United entered the half time break having not even mustered a shot on target.
Sir Alex Ferguson tried to address this lack of control in the midfield at half time by withdrawing Ashley Young and replacing him with Tom Cleverley however it did not have the desired affect with Wigan deservedly taking the lead in the 50th minute. Whilst the decision to award a corner was wrong United were not awake to the threat of a short corner in particular Wayne Rooney which allowed Maloney to curl the ball past De Gea from 20 yards out. United now had a mountain to climb as the home fans were behind Wigan and the inability to keep possession of the ball still evident from the first half. Sir Alex brought on both Nani and Danny Welbeck in the hope they would pose an attacking threat however aside from a clever reverse pass from Nani and a shot which forced a smart save from Al Habsi from Welbeck little changed. United would argue they should have had a penalty in the 73rd minute when a Phil Jones cross appeared to roll up Maynor Figueroa’s leg before striking his left hand however nothing was given and United had to make do with a corner. A night of frustration for United ended in a 1-0 defeat.
Make no mistake nothing can be taken away from Wigan Athletic, their performance was fantastic, they fought for every tackle and were first to every second ball and one would think if they can keep that form going they will survive the drop for yet another season which really is a commendable achievement. For United however maybe this result was needed to bring the boys back down to earth. The title is by no means won and despite what their manager says will have a renewed belief in their title challenge. Aston Villa at home on Sunday afternoon is now an even more important game with United needing to get a win to prove that this result was just a minor blip on the navigation to the title.