WIGAN, United Kingdom, Feb 26, 2011 (AFP) - Edwin van der Sar was Manchester United's hero as Sir Alex Ferguson's side opened up a four-point lead at the top of the Premier League with a 4-0 win at Wigan on Saturday.
Mexican international Javier Hernandez's eighth and ninth league goals in the 17th minute and 74th minutes helped United to a 13th successive win over Wigan, while Wayne Rooney and Fabio Da Silva were also on the scoresheet.
|Javier Hernandez celebrates scoring the opening goal. AFP|
But it was 40-year-old Van der Sar's heroics between the posts which sent United clear of nearest rivals Arsenal with 11 games remaining.
The former Netherlands goalkeeper marked his 250th United appearance by making a string of spectacular saves, with Victor Moses, Ben Watson and Maynor Figueroa all frustrated before Rooney sealed the win with United's third goal.
Wigan had lost all their previous 12 encounters with United, conceding 37 times in the process. But they went into this game unbeaten in the previous three league outings including a morale-boosting 1-1 draw at Liverpool.
After criticism about the playing surface from their own manager Roberto Martinez, Wigan had relaid the pitch ahead of United's visit.
And it did not take long for the lowly hosts to adapt to the new surface.
During a bright start by Wigan, Colombian striker Hugo Rodallega saw his fifth minute snap shot fly over the bar.
Then England under-21 winger Moses used his pace to get behind the United defence and deliver a low centre across the six-yard area. Unfortunately for Wigan, there was no blue shirt to turn it over the line.
But after soaking up the home side's early pressure, United took control through Hernandez soon after Van der Sar had produced an excellent save to deny the busy Moses.
Once again Nani produced the assist, the Portuguese winger charging down the left before producing a cross for Hernandez, who had shrugged off his marker, to steer home from five-yards in the 17th minute.
Hernandez was only starting after Ferguson had opted to leave the Premier League's leading goalscorer Dimitar Berbatov on the bench ahead of next Tuesday's game at reigning champions Chelsea.
Yet Wigan ought to have equalised moments later when Watson found himself in space but the midfielder's close range effort was brilliantly kept out by Van der Sar.
This is the start of a pivotal period for United, with five league and cup games in the space of 17 days likely to shape their season.
And although they survived a couple of early scares, Ferguson's side should have made sure of the points before half time.
A fluid move involving Paul Scholes ended with Nani's shot rebounding off the inside of the post with keeper Ali Al Habsi beaten on the half hour mark.
But it required another fabulous stop by man-of-the-match Van der Sar to deny Figueroa a rare goal on the Honduras international's 100th Premier League appearance.
Figueroa let fly from 30-yards in the 48th minute, his ferocious effort heading for the net before Van der Sar scrambled to keep it out.
United finished strongly with Nani squandering a hat-trick of opportunities before Hernandez put the game out of sight 16 minutes from time with a composed finish after being sent clear by Rooney, who made it 3-0 from close range six minutes from time.
Wigan will feel hard done by the scoreline after substitute Fabio made it 4-0 three minutes from time.