Manchester United hit Wigan with a devastating second-half goal salvo to win the League Cup for the second time. Wayne Rooney cashed in on confusion between Arjan De Zeeuw and Pascal Chimbonda to fire United ahead. Gary Neville crossed for Louis Saha to score United’s second before Stephane Henchoz gifted the ball to Saha to set Cristiano Ronaldo up for their third.
Rooney rounded off a blitz of three goals in seven minutes to ensure United will end the season with a trophy.
There were a surprise selection which raised some eyebrows with Van Nistelrooy left on the bench despite being United’s top scorer this season and he never got in on the action. The Dutch striker looked a disconsolate figure as he trooped down the tunnel alone while his team-mates celebrated their victory over Wigan. The rest of the line-up was as expected with Ji-Sung Park and Cristiano Ronaldo on the wings and Ryan Giggs and John O’Shea taking up the centre of midfield. Louis Saha, who had scored in every previous round, was up front with Rooney- while the back four remained the same from previous games, with Silvestre emplyed at left back.
In the opening seconds Gary Teale outstripped Mikael Silvestre to whip in a cross which Senegalese striker Henri Camara headed wide when well-placed, setting the template for an action-packed game. There were only three minutes gone when Wigan keeper Mike Pollitt clutched his hamstring after innocuously fielding a ball and was clearly in trouble. With replacement keeper John Filan warming up, Rooney thumped a header against the Wigan bar. Rooney was in ebullient mood and was the driving force as United applied the early pressure. United were finding too much space for Wigan’s liking and with Ronaldo at his mercurial slick-footed best, De Zeeuw and Henchoz were at full stretch in the heart of the Latics’ defence.
There was little finesse about United’s opening goal, inevitably scored by Rooney. Edwin Van der Sar’s long punt downfield was flicked on by Saha – and De Zeeuw and Chimbonda collided to leave Rooney with a clear run on goal to slot clinically past Filan. But Wigan showed the spirit which has typified their first season in the Premiership and Jason Roberts tricked his way past Neville and Wes Brown did superbly to head clear as Paul Scharner closed in.
Wigan carried the game to United at the start of the second half and Camara showed skill and pace to beat Rio Ferdinand but Van der Sar got his angles right to beat the shot away. But just as Wigan were pressing for an equaliser, United struck a mortal blow to their hopes with a second goal. Ryan Giggs picked his way past a couple of tackles in midfield before sweeping a pass out to Ronaldo, who in turn laid the ball into Neville’s overlapping run. Neville’s cross was met by Saha and although Filan saved his first effort, the Frenchman converted at the second attempt. United effectively killed the game off two minutes later when Henchoz gifted the ball to Saha who slid a pass for Ronaldo to fire a shot across Filan. A rampant United made it three goals in seven minutes when Giggs’ free-kick was won initially by Saha, and then Ferdinand headed the ball goalwards for Rooney to spin and tuck away his second goal. Although Wigan were staring at an act of damage-limitation, they went searching for a consolation but found United’s defence in a mean-spirited mood.
At his maserful best in every respect and deservedly received the Man of the Match Award from the Football Association.
Manchester United captain Gary Neville dedicated their Carling Cup victory to injured team-mate Alan Smith. Smith broke his leg in United’s FA Cup exit at Liverpool and Neville said:
“This is for Smudger. We were devastated last week, and after Alan picked up a really bad injury we knew he couldn’t be here today. We’ve taken a lot of criticism over the last year, and rightly so, but hopefully this can be the start of something special.”