By the end Manchester United had won with such ease it was difficult to remember this was the ground where their title hopes suffered a grievous setback during the run-in last season. Wigan Athletic could barely muster a noteworthy attack this time, never mind threaten a repeat of that 1-0 victory, as normal service resumed in a fixture that has tended to be staggeringly one-sided over the years.
Sir Alex Ferguson's team have now scored 54 times in their 17 encounters against Wigan whereas, to give it context, there have been only five in the opposite direction. On the balance of play it was just a surprise the Premier League leaders could not add further sheen to their goal difference. Their goalkeeper, David de Gea, was barely required to finish the match with a single scuff of mud on his kit.
United took their time to get going but once they had found some momentum the imbalance of talent was extreme and, for Wigan, brutal. "A mismatch," as the Wigan manager, Roberto Martínez, called it. Javier Hernández scored twice, taking his tally for the season to 12, and there was another demonstration of Robin van Persie's sublime gifts as he also got two. Van Persie's portfolio as a United player now extends to 19 goals and his first here was a beauty. A constant menace, oozing football intelligence, he was described by his manager afterwards as "the completely rounded footballer".
It was a performance, more than anything, that rammed home why the Manchester City manager, Roberto Mancini, has dropped the pretence and now talks of missing out on Van Persie last summer as the principal reason why Manchester City are seven points behind their neighbours at the top of the table.
Wigan, it must be said, were obliging opponents, with Martínez describing them as "lethargic" and having "no real life about us". His team have won only once now in eight league fixtures and they played with little cohesion, even less attacking threat and their goalkeeper, Ali al-Habsi, looked vulnerable with his handling at times.
United, however, played with great control and purpose. Ryan Giggs and Ashley Young were penetrative figures on the wings, Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick dovetailed nicely in the centre of midfield and, as Martínez said, Ferguson had the luxury of having the larger squad to rotate and ensure freshness at the end of an exhausting period. Nemanja Vidic, for example, watched the entire match from the bench.
Van Persie's partnership with Hernández also ensured there was no need to lament the absence of the injured Wayne Rooney. Hernández, the classic penalty-box poacher, has now scored 31 league goals for United and all of them have come from inside the area. Van Persie is not just closing in on the 20-goal mark that every striker craves but has nine assists as well among his 25 appearances for the club. At this rate he must have an outstanding chance of retaining the footballer-of-the-year awards he won last season as an Arsenal player. "I knew he would make the difference," Ferguson said of his top scorer. "He has great international experience, he's played for Arsenal for seven years and he came to us at the very peak of his career."
Van Persie had completed the scoring with a simple close-range finish, after a cross from the substitute Danny Welbeck, but his first of the afternoon was the game's outstanding moment. Hernández crossed for his team-mate and the manner in which Van Persie made sure he had the best chance of scoring was exquisite, controlling the ball but delaying his shot rather than letting fly with his left boot. The hesitation was both brilliant and crucial. He moved on to his right foot, eluding the nearest defender, Iván Ramis, then expertly picked out the far corner with a curling effort. "His ability to make and take goals is fantastic," Ferguson continued. "His turn, his balance, no drawback [for the shot], just side-footed it in ... it was a really good goal."
Hernández's goals were less spectacular but, in their own way, a great example of his anticipation inside the opposition penalty area. Both came from colleagues firing in shots that eventually came his way. For the first Habsi turned Patrice Evra's shot into the Mexican's path. For the second a short free-kick was touched to Van Persie, his shot hit Wigan's defensive wall and the ball ricocheted into Hernández's path. His finish, on the turn, made it 3-0.
Five minutes earlier Arouna Koné had turned in Franco Di Santo's cross at the far post only for the goal to be disallowed for a marginal offside decision. In truth it was difficult to imagine it would have inspired a comeback and De Gea's goal was seldom threatened again. That makes two clean sheets in a row for United, which should please Ferguson almost as much as the form of his front players.