No Banana Skin On Boxing Day, Manchester, 26th Of December 2011

Boxing day in Wigan is traditionally a fancy dress day. This explains why 200/300 of their travelling 1500 army came dressed as bananas yesterday, there were other more free thinking ones who came dressed as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Lennie the Lion. The rest of the Wigan fans just sat there, so much so that I was beginning to wonder if they’d borrowed some cast offs from Madame Tussauds in Blackpool to pad out the pathetically low turnout of away fans on a bank holiday for a match that is sixteen miles from their hometown. Wigan, like Leeds, is a rugby league town that just happens to have a football team attached to it. Leeds have found their true and correct place in the second flight and hopefully will stay there ad infinitum, I have a feeling that Wigan are gonna be joining them there this summer, having stayed in the Premier League with admirable resilience, since 2005. Wigan are beginning to remind me of Wimbledon, who had an abnormally long stay in the top flight before being relegated, moving fifty odd miles away to Milton Keynes and completly losing their identity in the process. Like Wimbledon, Wigan’s support in regards to numbers is lamentable, when a club can’t sell out their ground for the visit of United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, then to my eyes, they have no business being in the top division. I could sit here all night taking the piss out of Wigan, but it’s a bit like kicking a puppy. At least the fans who came to Old Trafford yesterday dressed as bananas did try and create an atmosphere. They were, in the second half suddenly celebrating an imaginary goal, I was begining to think that they’d been on Ken Kesey’s favourite medication, then they tried riling a pretty bored K Stand by singing City’s Mancini song, to the tune of Volare and about City’s recent 6-1 win at Old Trafford. United fans ignored them in a way an adult would ignore a child jumping up and down saying look at me. United fans, myself included here, were looking forward to going back to the pub to carry on with the festive drinking session that always occurs on Boxing Day and which had been rudely interrupted by, unusually for United, a 3PM kick off.

Since Wigan Athletic were admitted to the football league in 1978, they have played United thirteen times in all competitions and lost every single fixture comfortably except for a league match in March 2006 at the (then called) JJB stadium when United were very lucky to win 2-1 after a pretty gutsy Wigan performance. With that record, anything other than a United win yesterday would’ve been a shock. Saying that, you can never take anything for granted on Boxing Day, like the F.A Cup, it’s football’s great leveller and the day has traditionally thrown up freak results over the years. Yesterday alone threw up three surprise results at Anfield, Stamford Bridge and the Hawthorns in West Bromwich. On the same day that Ryan Giggs equalled ex Wigan director, Bobby Charlton’s record of 756 starts for United, any worries of a surprise result were taken care of within eight minutes when Ji Sung Park scored from a cross after an overlapping run from Patrice Evra. Ten minutes later, such was the confidence of both the United fans and team that when Wigan’s answer to Spit the dog, Antolin Alcaraz, tripped Javier Hernandez in the box for what was to my eyes, a blatant penalty, the appeal was waved away by referee Phil Dowd and nobody got too upset about it. Twenty minutes later, Conor Sammon was sent off for elbowing Michael Carrick. At the time, I thought Phil Dowd had called it right but having seen the replay, I think the sending off was harsh. Michael Carrick said in the post match interview on Match of the Day that he thought that Sammon was unlucky to be sent off but when Carrick had touched the side of his face after the collision, the way people do to see if there is any blood, that gesture alone probably swayed the referee more than anything else. Dimitar Berbatov scored four minutes before half time to dispel any frivolous fears of a Wigan comeback, he scored again on 58 minutes with a beauty and completed his hat trick twenty minutes later with a very nonchelant penalty after Antolin Alcaraz was harshly adjudged to have tripped Ji Sung Park in the penalty area. Antonio Valencia scored a with a low drive into the bottom right hand corner of the Wigan net three minutes prior with a goal that reminded me of Roberto Carlos.

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