Sometimes, football throws up the kind of stories that scriptwriters couldn’t produce and Sir Alex Ferguson’s 1,000th league game in charge of Manchester United, like so many of his previous 999, was one of those occasions.
I couldn’t tell you how many of those 1,000 matches have seen Ferguson standing on the touchline berating the referee while pointing at his watch (probably about 666) but most of those have been followed by his team getting a late goal that grabbed vital points and their match at Southampton was was no different.
Trailing 2-1 with five minutes left after being second best to Nigel Adkins’ men for much of the match, the Red Devils somehow managed to win 3-2 after a hat-trick from Robin van Persie, the last of which came two minutes into injury time, to give Ferguson the perfect way to celebrate an incredible milestone.
It was typical Ferguson – how vital those three points could be come the end of the season – and United have won title after title with this never-say-die attitude that the Scot has instilled in his players, no matter who they have been over the last 20-odd years.
Only once have Wigan scored away at United and they have conceded 24 times (which doesn’t include a 4-0 defeat in the League Cup in 2006), so you can’t have much confidence anything is going to be different this weekend.
It is generally agreed that this is not a vintage United squad, but as the match at St. Mary’s demonstrated, Ferguson still finds a way to win more often than not and there is no doubt that his side will be there at the top fighting for the Premier League come next May.
Of course, that was the case last season, but a late collapse handed the title to Manchester City as United blew an eight-point lead with just six games left and Saturday’s visitors to Old Trafford will be a cruel reminder of where it all started to go wrong.
A 1-0 defeat against Wigan Athletic at the DW Stadium was the start of United handing the league to their neighbours and Ferguson will be keen to ensure the visit of Roberto Martinez’s men will not be a similar story.
Odds of 1/4 on a home win suggest a repeat is unlikely, as does the price of 21/2 on a Wigan victory. The draw is 9/2, but anything other than a United triumph is hard to envisage.
That victory for the Latics was part of a remarkable late surge which pulled them clear of relegation and though their good form has continued into this campaign, too, Wigan have been nothing but lambs to the slaughter at Old Trafford over the years.
Whether it is an inferiority complex or the fact they are obviously not as good a team, whenever Wigan visit United they simply crumble.
Since gaining promotion in 2005, they have been defeated on all seven of their league trips to Old Trafford. And not just defeated, either: more often than not, they have been pummelled.
Only once have Wigan scored away at United and they have conceded 24 times (which doesn’t include a 4-0 defeat in the League Cup in 2006), so you can’t have much confidence anything is going to be different this weekend, even with memories of their first ever win over the Red Devils fresh in the mind.
And I’m going to be sticking with history and getting on the 9/5 that United win 1-0, 2-0 or 3-0. Ferguson’s men haven’t been too sound defensively but I trust they will be able to keep out a Wigan team that may well freeze again when they get to Old Trafford.
United have their first Champions League match in midweek before a run of fixtures against Liverpool, Newcastle and Tottenham, and on the back of an international break, will be happy to do just enough to beat Wigan and move on rather than go all-out for a drubbing.
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