Title chase hots up as mighty Man United fall to lowly Wigan

Shaun Maloney

Shock defeat gives Man City fans renewed hope, while Arsenal go five points clear of Spurs

BY Bill Mann LAST UPDATED AT 09:05 ON Thu 12 Apr 2012

Wigan 1 Manchester United 0. It was the runaway Premier League leaders' first defeat since 4 January – and it came against struggling Wigan. Shaun Maloney's goal on 50 minutes stunned United and gave a glimmer of hope to Manchester City, who thumped West Bromwich Albion 4-0 at the Etihad.

The results reduce United's lead at the top of the table to five points and with the Red Devils still to play at City on 30 April the race for the title has some life left in it.
 
Or at least it does if your name's not Roberto Mancini. The City manager did his best to play down the significance of the results, mindful that the less pressure he can put on his psychologically fragile side the better. "United are a fantastic team and I don't think they can lose five points," said Mancini. "For us it's important and they have a fantastic spirit. I think five points is too much."

At the start of March it was City who were five points clear at the top, but a disastrous slump in form has seen them win just one of their last five games which, allied to a 12-match unbeaten run from United before Wigan, has turned the title race on its head.

Now, according to Mancini, all that matters is respectability. "It is still important for us to finish the season well," he said. "This is the best season for 50 years and I am proud of the players. It was an important win because West Brom are a good team with a good manager."

Sergio Aguero struck once in each half for City while there was also a sweet chip to savour from David Silva. But the most talked about goal of the evening was the one from Carlos Tevez on 61 minutes.

It was a scuffed shot from the Argentine striker but a goal all the same and it completed a remarkable return for the player who last appeared for City in September. "I'm happy for him and his performance," said Mancini, who had a very public falling out with Tevez six months ago. "He can improve in our last five games."

United will have to improve in their last five games if they're to clinch their 20th league title next month. The Red Devils were out of sorts from the start and Wigan fully deserved their victory – their first win over United after 13 straight defeats. The home side had Shaun Maloney to thank for the goal, a great strike from the edge of the box five minutes into the second half.

Despite United having a strong claim for a penalty turned down by referee Phil Dowd, manager Alex Ferguson acknowledged his side had been second best on the night. "Wigan were the better team and deserved it," he said.

Ferguson then brushed off suggestions that the result might be a sign that it's United now struggling to handle the pressure. "It's been a great run and put us in a position where we can win the league," Ferguson said. "We were well behind City a couple of months ago… so we have to take some credit for getting back in the race. It's important to win our home games now. We'll improve from this performance, I'm sure of that."

The win moves Wigan out of the drop zone for the first time since October but there was no such relief for bottom-placed Wolves following their clash with Arsenal last night.

The home side got off to the worst possible start when defender Sebastien Bassong was sent off on nine minutes for a last-ditch foul on Theo Walcott. Robin van Persie rubbed salt into Wolves' wounds by converting the penalty with an audacious chip, and two minutes later Walcott doubled the Gunners' advantage. Yossi Benayoun added a third after the break as Arsenal consolidated their third place without breaking into a sweat.

The Gunners are now five points clear of Tottenham in fourth, and a win at home to Wigan next Monday should all but guarantee their automatic qualification for next season's Champions League. But then Wigan just beat Manchester United.

"We've still got a long way to go [but] at least we're in a strong position now," said Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger. "The target is to win our games, starting with the next one." · 

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