The result didn’t quite go Latics’ way as a star studded Manchester United snatched two late goals, but it was an evening which will be long remembered by the 15,000 or so who were lucky to witness it all.
Perhaps it was fitting for such a fine arena that the first goals scored there came from the feet of an England international and the striker who scored United’s dramatic late winner in the Champion’s League Final to clinch the treble.
Paul Scholes broke clear to fire United ahead with just eight minutes left and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wrapped up the gate crashing act in the dying moments.
While the main purpose of the match was to christen the stadium, it also gave Latics manager John Benson one final chance to put his squad through their paces before Saturday’s league kick off.
And while United may not have been operating at full pace, Latics stood up to them with a disciplined, well organised display.
Soccer’s newest knight Sir Alex Ferguson who performed the opening honours with Dave Whelan, sent a strong squad to mark the occasion with nine internationals in his pool.
The recently wed David Beckham was on show in midfield together with Nicky Butt, Scholes and Jordi Cruyff.
Dwight Yorke was up front with Solskjaer, Phil Neville was at right back while Henning Berg skippered the side from central defence.
And keeper Mark Bosnich was on the bench, although he never got further than the dug out.
Latics gave trialist Mark Bowen and Kenny Brown 45 minutes each at left back, while Darren Sheridan played his first game for over a fortnight after shaking off a groin sprain.
Sheridan caught the eye with a busy display in the middle of the park, while his former Barnsley colleague Arjan de Zeeuw was equally as impressive at the heart of the back four.
De Zeeuw is looking a class act and he kept Yorke quiet for long periods.
Benson sprung something of a surprise by naming last season’s three man forward line of Stuart Barlow, Andy Liddell and Simon Haworth in a 4-3-3 formation after playing his favoured 4-4-2 in all the previous pre-season friendlies.
Latics twice came close to opening their account at the stadium inside the opening two minutes.
Only a last ditch block from Neville prevented Howarth breaking clear in the area, while keeper Raimond van der Gow blocked a close range flick from Liddell after De Zeeuw had helped on Scott Green’s inswinging free kick.
Downfield, Roy Carroll tipped a header from Cruyff over the bar, while De Zeeuw cleared a shot from the Dutch winger off the line.
Liddell sent a shot speeding into the side netting on the half hour mark after latching onto Haworth’s pass, while three minutes later, Ian Kilford wasn’t far off target with a drive from the edge of the box.
Carroll twice prevented Latics from going behind in the last few minutes of the first half.
After 41 minutes he clawed away a curling chip from Beckham, then on the stroke of half time, instinctively stuck out an arm to tip Scholes’ diving header over the woodwork.
The second half was only three minutes old when a 25 yard shot from the impressive Cruyff beat substitute keeper Derek Stillie all ends up and smacked against the bar.
At the other end, Michael O’Neill was off target with an effort from the edge of the area, but it turned out to be one of Latics’ few chances of the half as United started finding that extra yard of space.
Beckham curled a shot from the corner of the box against the outside of the post in the 74th minute, before the Old Trafford side finally broke the deadlock after 82 minutes.
Cruyff’s through ball sent SCHOLES clear and he tucked a low shot under the advancing Stillie from 16 yards.
They put the result beyond doubt in the 87th minute when Beckham’s cross field pass from right to left found SOLSKJAER in the box.
There was a hint of handball from the baby-faced striker as he brought it under control, before he dispatched a low shot with clinical accuracy into the far bottom corner.
The evening ended with a firework display over the East Stand, and now the serious stuff starts against Scunthorpe on Saturday. It promises to be quite a season!
Match Report by Dave Seddon – Wigan Evening Post