One trophy avenue remains open for Manchester United this season and they ensured passage into the FA Cup fourth round with an ultimately comfortable victory away to Wigan Athletic.

This was only a third win in 10 games for Erik ten Hag’s team and their performance, although dominant, featured a plethora of wasted chances. The adage goes that cup games are there to be won and United did that without offering too much else.

Diogo Dalot’s 22nd-minute opener should have been added to long before Bruno Fernandes doubled the visitors’ lead from the penalty spot 16 minutes prior to the end. Rasmus Hojlund was guilty of missing chances and could not discover his clinical edge against the League One side.

In total, United, who were losing finalists in this competition last season, had 33 shots at the Wigan goal, 14 of which were on target, and accumulated 67 per cent possession.

It meant that progressing from the third round for the tenth successive season was achieved in dominant fashion. They will travel to either Newport County or Eastleigh in the next round.

Although Wigan never really laid a glove on their opponents, this was still an occasion to savour. Shaun Maloney, the Wigan manager, knows a thing or two about this competition having been part of the team that triumphed against the odds in the 2013 final.

United were regular visitors to these parts during Maloney’s time here as a player. The former midfielder was the scorer of the winner in Wigan’s only triumph over them in 2012. That came just over a year before the Scot’s corner teed up Ben Watson for the most famous goal in the club’s history.

That FA Cup final victory over Manchester City does seem a long time ago for supporters who have been more used to League One than Premier League in the decade since. Off-field issues took the club close to the brink last summer and brought about an eight-point deduction this term.

Getty: Michael Regan
Getty: Michael Regan

However, the stabilising impact of the new owner, local businessman Mike Danson, and Maloney’s work with the players has lifted the gloom somewhat with Wigan currently 18th in the third tier. This plum third-round tie was therefore seen by the manager as a reward for persevering through the challenging times.

Story of the game

The DW Stadium had not seen a crowd this big for some time, with the travelling 7,000 United supporters afforded occupancy of the entire stand along the far touchline. Both managers went strong and, this being United’s last realistic chance of silverware this term, Ten Hag had little reason to rotate.

Maloney wanted his players to have “belief” and they certainly started without inhibitions. It was the home team that created the first opportunity within three minutes when Sean Clare fed Martial Godo down the right and his ball swept in behind the United defence was met by Thelo Aasgaard whose effort was saved by Andre Onana.

However, apart from Godo trying to flick in Stephen Humphrys’s shot at the back post, that was the end of Wigan’s chances in the first half. Instead, United took control and should have been more than one goal ahead by the break.

The breakthrough came in the 22nd minute with United overloading their right flank and Alejandro Garnacho sending in a cross that was slightly too high for Hojlund. The ball fell for Marcus Rashford who saw an effort blocked and then teed up Dalot. The full back bent his shot into the far corner.

Hojlund could not take any of the three good openings that fell his way. He had one low shot stopped by Sam Tickle, the Wigan goalkeeper, saw a header scrape the upper-side of the crossbar and also failed to tap home a rebound after Rashford was denied.

Rashford had been lively and Tickle was fortunate to claw one of the forward’s efforts away from his goalline after a fumble. Garnacho also smashed an effort against the crossbar and Scott McTominay spurned two good chances as United laid siege on the Wigan goal and racked up 17 shots in the opening period.

United continued their domination into the second half, but for as long as the scoreline remained tight, Wigan were not out of it. They were again grateful to Tickle for pushing aside Kobbie Mainoo’s low shot bound for the bottom corner; the ‘keeper certainly earning his match fee.

Yet, despite further rearguard action, the hosts played their part in helping United to their second goal. There were 18 minutes remaining when Liam Shaw slid in and took Fernandes’s right foot from beneath him.

Getty: Chris Brunskill
Getty: Chris Brunskill

Some of the Wigan players felt that the United captain had gone down too easily, but referee Anthony Taylor awarded the penalty and Fernandes sent the ‘keeper the wrong way.

Maloney sent on Callum McManaman, the player of the match from the 2013 final, and Tickle kept out further efforts from Fernandes and Rashford, but this had been a one-sided contest and an upset never really on the cards.

Player of the match: Sam Tickle

Although the Wigan goalkeeper was beaten twice, he was instrumental in keeping his team in the contest for so long. United were camped in the final third for large parts and amassed countless shots, yet Tickle made 12 saves and showed plenty of promise.