Hernandez fires, Beckford double
Manchester United go into the final 11 games of the Premier League season with a four-point buffer after they disposed of Wigan 4-0 on Saturday.
Sir Alex Ferguson's men are about to enter the most important period of their season, with away fixtures against Chelsea and Liverpool next on the agenda, and the United manager seemed to pick his starting line-up accordingly. Top scorer Dimitar Berbatov was benched, arguably with one eye on Chelsea, meaning Javier Hernandez partnered Wayne Rooney in attack.
It took all of 17 minutes for that decision to pay dividends, with the Mexican striker alive and alert as Wigan's defenders stood like statues. After three excellent chances for the Latics, United launched their first meaningful attack through Nani, who exchanged passes with Rooney before crossing for Hernandez to divert past Ali Al Habsi.
Wigan had never taken a point off United in Premier League competition and, after a promising start, their threat began to fade. Nani was unsurprisingly a big source of attacking danger for United all afternoon, sending a long-range effort against an upright as half-time arrived with the score still reading 1-0.
The game was eventually killed off with 16 minutes left, Hernandez adding his second of the match following smart link-up play with Rooney, who got his own name on the scoresheet 10 minutes later following unselfish play from Berbatov. Fabio da Silva then added the gloss at the death.
At the bottom end of the table, Wolves' survival hopes received a giant boost as they beat Blackpool 4-0 at Molineux. Victory lifts Mick McCarthy's side up to 17th, level on points with 18th-placed West Brom who drop into the relegation zone on goal difference.
Blackpool suffered a nightmare start in the Midlands, conceding inside the opening minute thanks to a piece of brilliance from Matthew Jarvis. After tidy build-up play, the young winger cut inside from the left onto his favoured foot and curled the ball into the corner.
Ian Holloway's task then became a monumental one when DJ Campbell naively earned himself a red card on the stroke of half-time, pushing Richard Stearman in the face. With Campbell off the pitch, Wolves took full advantage, doubling their lead through Jamie O'Hara before Sylvan Ebanks-Blake added a late brace.
Aston Villa can begin to plan confidently for another season in England's top flight after they beat Blackburn 4-1 in order to take a significant step away from the bottom three. Villa had started the day three points above the drop zone, but victory lifts them as high as 12th on a tough day for Blackburn, who had Ryan Nelsen sent off for two bookable offences in injury-time.
The first half was all about Rovers goalkeeper Paul Robinson, who was at his brilliant best to frustrate Villa on several occasions, although there was no excuse for Darren Bent's profligacy on the stroke of the interval, attempting to shift the ball onto his right foot when a simple left-footed tap-in would have sufficed.
Fortunately for Bent, Blackburn had a player in Keith Andrews who was ready to shoot himself in the foot, first losing the ball when attempting to turn inside the area, and then compounding the error by pulling down Ashley Young, who slotted home the penalty. Blackburn's capitulation was then cemented when youngster Grant Hanley diverted Marc Albrighton's cross into his own net, before Stewart Downing and Young again added goals three and four. Nikola Kalinic provided Rovers' consolation.
Everton were also in need of a boost, beginning the day level with Villa, and David Moyes' response was to leave Tim Cahill on the bench. The result was a solid 2-0 victory over Sunderland at Goodison Park, inspired by Jermaine Beckford.
Cahill's absence allowed Moyes to partner Beckford with Louis Saha up front, and the former Leeds striker combined well with Leon Osman and Mikel Arteta to score two predatory goals. First Osman slid Beckford through to break the deadlock on eight minutes, and then Arteta lost his marker to cut the ball back for Beckford's second.
In the day's other fixture, 10-man Newcastle drew with Bolton 1-1 and missed the chance to leapfrog Sunderland into seventh in the table. Kevin Nolan's strike was cancelled out by Daniel Sturridge during the first half at St James' Park, and Bolton could not find a winner despite playing 35 minutes with a numerical advantage.
The opener arrived after 13 minutes, with former Bolton man Nolan glancing a low cross past Jussi Jaaskelainen. However, by half-time parity was restored as Sturridge took his goal tally to four goals in four games. Newcastle then lost Ryan Taylor, sent off for a rash challenge on Johan Elmander.