Wigan result is music to Roberto Mancini's ears
At The DW Stadium
The soundtrack to survival accompanied Sir Alex Ferguson as he marched down the tunnel at The DW Stadium. What awaited Manchester United's players may not have been quite so melodic.
As Roberto Martinez enjoyed what he labelled "a historic performance" with Wigan's first win against United after 14 successive defeats, the significance of the victory was celebrated in song.
Wigan's DJ captured their mood with The Great Escape" theme and - just in case anyone missed the message - The Monkees' "I'm A Believer", "Let's Hang On" by Frankie Valli and Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'."
It may now be a good idea to start spinning these tracks in August to convince Wigan that the season does not actually start when they are in dire trouble in the final weeks of the campaign. On the evidence of how they outplayed United, mid-table should be more familiar territory.
Wigan's Shau Maloney scores his side's winner at DW Stadium. Photo: Empics
For Ferguson, this was a night when even the fire and fury he brought to bear in the technical area had no impact. Few were spared his anger, including Wayne Rooney when he was given a verbal and visible illustration of his manager's displeasure after coughing up possession tamely in the first half.
The importance of Wigan's win spread far and wide, from giving Manchester City hope where there appeared to be none to pushing themselves out of the bottom three for the first since 2 October and leaving Lancashire rivals Bolton and Blackburn deeper into trouble.
If the result was greeted ecstatically in Wigan, then the joy would have been just as great at Etihad Stadium as it afforded Manchester City the opportunity to close the gap on United to five points, while bolstering their goal difference with a 4-0 win against West Bromwich Albion.
It is still advantage United and while, as far as the title is concerned, Wigan may not have blown the door off its hinges they have pushed it slightly ajar for City.
After defeat at Arsenal on Sunday left Roberto Mancini's side eight points adrift, they needed something from somewhere to help them at least cling to the hope that the meeting with United at Etihad Stadium on 30 April could have something riding on it.
David Silva and Carlos Tevez scored in Man City's rout of West Brom. Photo: Getty
The night started with an examination of a possible sequence of results that could have seen United win the title this weekend but ended with just hope for Mancini and City that they will greet their neighbours with the big prize still on offer.
Much of this was down to a Wigan performance that made a nonsense of their status this season. If manager Martinez had been asked to describe a performance to fit his philosophy, this would have been it.
Wigan played in the passing style so beloved of their manager, but showed spirit, fight and steel that restricted United to one serious attempt on goal, a shot from substitute Danny Welbeck blocked by keeper Ali Al Habsi.
Martinez praised the "arrogance" of his players. He said: "We played eye to eye with United. It is a fantastic credit to this football club."
Ferguson was measured in his post-match analysis, accepting Wigan were worthy winners and lamenting an off night for his team - perhaps forgivable after eight straight Premier League wins.
We can only guess at what Ferguson's reaction was in the privacy of the dressing room, but out in open view he was as angry with his players as he has been for some considerable time.
Ferguson stood, clad in black, in his technical area for almost all of the first half. He was a study in frustration as arms waved, hands were stuffed into his pockets, fingers pointed. On occasions he crept out of his designated zone to inch closer to his players, irritated that his message was not getting across.
Rooney has been superb as United have reeled in City, but this was a night to forget. From that public rebuke from Ferguson to another from his team-mates following slack work at the corner that led to Shaun Maloney's 50th- minute winner, this was listless-looking Rooney.
It was a sign of his struggle that Ferguson felt the need to remove his talisman with 25 minutes left, despite United seeking inspiration for an equaliser. It was not a decision Rooney was minded to contest as he departed with a meek, resigned, touch of the hands with his manager.
United are still in a wonderful position to win the title and it will take some losing from here, but from the start they looked slack, almost complacent. This was in complete contrast to the team that faced them and the team they have been themselves in recent times.
Paul Scholes has been at heart of their move to the Premier League summit, working well in tandem with Michael Carrick in central midfield. He was rested here, so maybe it was no coincidence United lacked tempo, composure and someone to dictate terms when Wigan took control.
Perhaps, even subconsciously, some of United's players felt the job was done. Ferguson's demeanour, the fact that his players appeared suspiciously early for the second half and the menacing spring in his stride at the final whistle suggested they were about to receive a reminder to the contrary.
For enigmatic Wigan, this was a performance such quality that is should stand them in good stead for their final five games. The question is - why wait until these last few weeks to perform?
In a week when refereeing decisions have been questioned, both sides suffered. Wigan looked to have a goal harshly ruled out when Gary Caldwell was adjudged to have fouled United keeper David de Gea as Victor Moses headed in and United had a clear penalty ignored when Maynor Figueroa handled Phil Jones' cross late on.
United also had a complaint that the corner that led to Maloney's goal should not have been given - but Ferguson could have no complaints about the result and said so. The battle is still on.