Five star United! Berbatov hat-trick fires Fergie level at top as City draw a blank
Manchester United drew level with neighbours City at the top of the Barclays Premier League with a five-goal demolition of Wigan at Old Trafford.
A hat-trick from Dimitar Berbatov and goals from Park Ji-sung and Antonio Valencia ensured United earned their 25th point out of a possible 27 since City crushed them 6-1 in October – and they will move clear at the top if they avoid defeat at home to Blackburn on New Year”s Eve.
Man of the moment: Manchester United”s Dimitar Berbatov celebrates at the final whistle with the match ball after netting a hat-trick
Ferguson will turn 70 that day and his team have the chance to give him the perfect present as City do not play – at Sunderland – until the following day.
As City boss Roberto Mancini complained of fixture congestion after his side”s 0-0 draw at West Brom and Chelsea”s Andre Villas-Boas ruled his side out of the title race after a 1-1 home draw with Fulham, Ferguson, whose champions trail on goal difference by five goals, said: “I think I said some weeks ago that someone was going to suffer. We are really hitting good form now. There”s a real goal threat from us from all departments.
“The consistency of the team is very good. Injuries are mounting up, we are getting our fair share. But, as I say, it”s a long season. We wanted to get to New Year”s Day level.
Treble chance: Berbatov completes his hat trick from the penalty spot
“If we are top of the league or joint top with City on New Year”s Day then I will be happy.”
City boss Mancini, whose side yesterday failed to score in a Premier League match for the first time since April, accused the Premier League of jeopardising their title chances by making them play twice in 48 hours over the New Year weekend.
He said: “I think United will win their next game but it is going to be more difficult for us, against Sunderland away and then, within 48 hours, against Liverpool.
“I”m not happy with this situation, because two days” rest, when we are already playing every three days, is not correct.”
Cracking strike: Antonio Valencia scores United”s fourth goal
Chelsea boss Villas-Boas had targeted December as a month when his team could challenge the Manchester clubs but has seen them drop points at Wigan, Tottenham and yesterday at home to Fulham. He said: “Maybe the Premier League is over for us. You cannot live under false expectations when the gap is this big.”
United began yesterday with 10 players out after Phil Jones and Chris Smalling reported sick on the morning of the game. They then lost another, Jonny Evans, with a calf strain at half-time. However, the controversial sending-off of Wigan striker Conor Sammon at 1-0 helped United to their fifth league win on the bounce.
Referee Phil Dowd appeared to err in dismissing Sammon for an alleged elbow in the face of Michael Carrick a minute before Berbatov scored the first of his three goals late in the opening period. Ferguson acknowledged his team”s fortune and said: “I didn”t think it was intentional.”
Pleased: Sir Alex Ferguson with Nani
Wigan manager Roberto Martinez was a little more expressive, saying: “The red card was a shocking decision.
“Conor was trying to get in a good position. There was nothing malicious. Dimitar Berbatov then used the same technique in the box to score a goal. We were not allowed to compete. I want to believe that we get treated the same way as Chelsea or Manchester United players. It”s a difficult one to explain.”
United expect to welcome back Smalling, Jones and Rio Ferdinand – who has a back problem – for the next game. Evans will be out for a fortnight.