Robin van Persie immediately picked up where he left off last season in Sunday’s Community Shield as his goals once more allowed Manchester United to prosper despite a less than stellar overall performance from his side. A goal in each half from the Dutchman -- one a fine header after just six minutes, the other courtesy of a fortunate deflection off of James Perch -- handed the Premier League champions a 2-0 victory at Wembley over FA Cup winners Wigan Athletic.
It was a largely uninspiring contest, with the heat likely taking its toll on the tempo of proceedings. For large spells, the now Championship side were at least holding their own against their more illustrious opponents. Certainly there was further encouragement for new manager Owen Coyle after his side’s opening 4-0 league win over Barnsley last weekend. But just as it appeared Wigan could threaten an equalizer Van Persie’s cruel second ended the match as a contest.
It is always dangerous to read too much into what is essentially a glorified exhibition. Still, just a week before the Premier League season, the new man in the Manchester United dugout, David Moyes, will know that he still has much work to do. While Sir Alex Ferguson has long managed to compensate for deficiencies in his squad, Moyes will hope to not be faced with the same proposition in his first season in charge when the transfer window closes in three weeks’ time.
In contrast to much of their preseason form, United began strongly. Playing their way through Wigan, it was a matter of minutes before Moyes was celebrating a goal for his new side on the Wembley sideline. And the key reason for United’s title win last season made an early impact this campaign as he swung the ball out wide to Patrice Evra and from the Frenchman’s early cross he rose well from 15 yards and powered a header with precision to beat the dive of Scott Carson into his bottom corner.
But, while Danny Welbeck forced a decent stop from Carson with a turn and shot from the top of the box later in the half, United failed to consistently threaten Wigan’s backline. And their control of proceedings also slipped during the opening period. With Rafael off with an apparent hamstring injury, James McClean began to have an increasing influence down the left. The recent signing from Sunderland might have laid on an equalizer for his new side too had he not drilled the ball across the six-yard box with too much pace after benefiting from an error from Chris Smalling.
A chance did fall Wigan’s way from a free-kick late in the opening period, but Emerson Boyce’s header back across goal just failed to be turned in by one of his teammates. Wigan maintained their momentum after the break and were taking the game to the English champions. Until, that is, they were hit with a cruel and fatal setback in the 59th minute.
From Welbeck’s pass, Van Persie was able to work the ball onto his favored left foot in trademark fashion, but his shot, although heading on target, was not of his usual high standard. A comfortable save was in the offing from Carson until the ball struck the outstretched boot of James Perch and past the rooted Wigan keeper.
Predictably, the goal took the stuffing out of Wigan and United regained a sense of control to play out the closing minutes with little fuss. A spate of substitutions also followed the second goal, with young Belgian Adnan Januzaj, who has made his mark in preseason getting a brief run out. But for the time being, much to Wayne Rooney’s chagrin, Van Persie remains very much the main man at United and his form will be critical to whether Moyes can hit the ground running at Old Trafford.