Manchester United 5 Wigan 0: Dimitar Berbatov scores hat-trick

Manchester United 5 Wigan 0: Berbatov treble turns heat up on title rivals City

Dimitar Berbatov scored a hat-trick as Manchester United muscled their way level with Manchester City at the top of the Premier League.

City still hold the advantage on goal difference, but even that lead was cut to five by United”s second successive five-goal triumph.

It was tough luck on Wigan, whose chance disappeared once Conor Sammon was sent off for catching Michael Carrick with his elbow just before the break.

Welcome back: Michael Carrick congratulates Dimitar Berbatov on his first goal

Welcome back: Michael Carrick congratulates Dimitar Berbatov on his first goal

Firing home: Berbatov grabs his first goal at Old Trafford

Firing home: Berbatov grabs his first goal at Old Trafford

Remember me Berbatov takes the plaudits against Wigan

Remember me Berbatov takes the plaudits against Wigan

Match facts

Man Utd: Lindegaard, Valencia, Evans (Fryers 46), Carrick, Evra, Park, Gibson, Giggs (Rooney 64), Nani (Macheda 64), Berbatov, Hernandez.
Subs Not Used: De Gea, Welbeck, Rafael Da Silva, Diouf.
Booked: Evans,Giggs.
Goals: Park 8,Berbatov 41,58,Valencia 75,Berbatov 78 pen.

Wigan: Al Habsi, Stam, Alcaraz, Caldwell, Figueroa, Jones, Diame (Di Santo 46), McCarthy, Gomez (McArthur 71),
Moses (Rodallega 80), Sammon.
Subs Not Used: Pollitt,Gohouri,Crusat,Watson.
Sent Off: Sammon (39).
Booked: Jones.
Att: 75,183
Ref: Phil Dowd (Staffordshire).

Already leading through Ji-sung Park”s early goal, United took maximum advantage.Berbatov doubled their lead before half-time, then scored twice more, bringing back memories of his form in the first half of last season, when he claimed three match balls.

On this occasion, he owed the honour to Wayne Rooney, who stepped aside to let him take the penalty after Park had been fouled by Antolin Alcaraz.

The excellent Antonio Valencia was also on target to ensure Sir Alex Ferguson will be handed the perfect 70th birthday present of a place on top of the table should his side overcome Blackburn on New Year”s Eve, given City are not in action until24 hours later.

If there was one game where Ferguson might not have been too alarmed to field a defence including Michael Carrick and Antonio Valencia, this was it.

Festive cheer: Wigan fans dressed up for the Boxing Day showdown

Festive cheer: Wigan fans dressed up for the Boxing Day showdown

Wigan had not managed so much as a draw in 13 previous meetings between the sides and the combined score from their past four encounters was 16-0.

United soon added to their tally as Patrice Evra slalomed his way into the Wigan box, then picked out Ji-sung Park with a neat cut-back.

The South Korean had enough space to pick his spot, into the top right corner, well out of Ali Al Habsi”s reach.

United continued to create chances at regular intervals, with Nani, Berbatov and Darron Gibson all trying their luck.

However, Wigan were not content to play the meek visitors and with Victor Moses building on recent impressive performances and Ronnie Stam exploiting the hosts” lack of anorthodox left-sided midfield player, created just as many chances as their hosts early on.

Opener: Ji-sung Park slots home to open the floodgates for the champions

Opener: Ji-sung Park slots home to open the floodgates for the champions

Take that: Park wheels away after putting United ahead in the match

Take that: Park wheels away after putting United ahead in the match

Sammon wasted the best, turning on toDavid Jones” pass but drilling a shot straight at Anders Lindegaard. The Irishman”s day quickly got much worse, and any chance Wigan had disappeared.

There is no doubt Sammon”s arm did end up in Carrick”s face, offering referee Phil Dowd the opportunity to send him off. However, it did appear the Wigan man was attempting to useit as a barrier to shield a bouncing ball from his opponent.

There was no malice, and very little force, behind the action and Latics chief Roberto Martinez was not on his own in believing his side had been harshly treated. And, as good sides do, United quickly exploited the situation.

Had injury not struck him down in August, Gibson might well have moved on in the summer. As it was, Ferguson was probably glad to have him available for this one. Off you go: Conor Sammon looks at the United players after being dismissed

Off you go: Conor Sammon looks at the United players after being dismissed

Make that four: Antonio Valencia lashes home to add to the total

Make that four: Antonio Valencia lashes home to add to the total

The Irishman delivered a teasing cross from the right flank, which ended up with Berbatov. Making only his second Premier League start of the season, United”s record signing took some time to get the ball under control.

However, he had the strength to hold off Antolin Alcaraz and drilled his shot past Al Habsi. The departure ofEvans at half-time led to Evra becoming possibly becoming United”s shortest ever central defender.

He was limping too not long afterwards, although that proved to be a false alarm. There did not seemmuch wrong with the Frenchman when he went straight through the back ofMoses anyway.

Jones curled the free-kick narrowly wide, which turned out to be Wigan”s last opportunity before United struck again. Valencia was having a quietly effective game and his prodded pass left Berbatov with enough space and time to smash his shot beyond Al Habsi.

Having fallen so far behind Manchester City in the goal difference stakes, United sensed it was timeto start making up some ground. Valencia”s excellent performance continued when he drilled his first Premier League goal of the season into the bottom left corner.

Then, after Park was chopped down in the box by Alcaraz, substitute Rooney let Berbatov finish off his hat-trick.

Spot on: Berbatov slides home his penalty to complete his hat-trick

Spot on: Berbatov slides home his penalty to complete his hat-trick

Delight: Berbatov with his match ball Pleased: Sir Alex Ferguson with Nani

Delight: Berbatov grabs the match ball for his hat-trick, while Sir Alex Ferguson celebrates with Nani